From Our 2007 Archives

Virulent Hospital Bug Driven by Hunger

THURSDAY, May 24 (HealthDay News) -- Hunger is what drives Clostridium difficile bacteria to cause disease, according to U.S. researchers who say their finding may help in the development of new treatments for dangerous C. difficile outbreaks that occur in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

"The genes responsible for toxin production only seem to be expressed during periods of nutrient deprivation. This is consistent with the view that most disease-causing bacteria express their pathogenicity when they are hungry," Abraham Sonenshein, a professor at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tuft University and at Tufts University School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

Sonenshein was to present the findings Thursday at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, in Toronto.

C. difficile bacteria are common -- found in soil, water, air, human and animal feces and on most surfaces in hospital wards -- but don't pose a threat until they begin to grow in abnormally large numbers in the intestinal tract.

This can occur when people take antibiotics or other antimicrobial drugs, causing a reduction in the number of benign bacteria in the intestinal tract, but an increase in C. difficile, which can result in symptoms ranging from diarrhea to potentially deadly colon inflammation.

In recent years, a new, more virulent strain of C. difficile began to appear in American and Canadian hospitals. By studying the genetics of the bacteria, Sonenshein said it may be possible to develop methods to keep C. difficile in check.

"If we find a way to shut down toxin production in the hypervirulent strain, we might have a new way to treat the disease," he said.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Society for Microbiology, news release, May 24, 2007

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