Deaths from stomach bugs more than doubled in the first decade of the 21st century, federal health officials said on Wednesday, mostly due to a hard-to-treat infection called Clostridium difficile.
Between 1999 and 2007, the number of deaths from gastroenteritis increased from nearly 7,000 to more than 17,000 a year, a team at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. More than 80 percent of the victims were over 65. Clostridium difficile, C. difficile for short, and a virus called norovirus were the most common killers.
“While C. difficile continues to be the leading contributor to gastroenteritis-associated deaths, this study shows for the first time that norovirus is likely the second-leading infectious cause,” the CDC’s Aron Hall said in a statement. “Our findings highlight the need for effective measures to prevent, diagnose, and manage gastroenteritis, especially for C. difficile and norovirus among the elderly.”
The team found a fivefold increase, from 2,700 to 14,500 deaths a year, for C. difficile.
C. difficile kills by causing untreatable diarrhea. A report last week found that virtually every case is contracted inside a hospital. The Obama administration has made tackling hospital-acquired infections a priority.
Norovirus killed 800 people a year, although the numbers rose and fell as new strains caused epidemics.
Norovirus sickens more than 20 million people every year, making it the leading cause of gastroenteritis outbreaks in the United States, the CDC team told the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases meeting in Atlanta.