Grassroots advocates for disease prevention are breaking new ground in the field of public health. Just weeks ago, several Californians joined people from around the country touched by a deadly disease that few Americans discuss to be trained as advocates. Their mission is fighting Clostridium difficile or C. diff. Their ultimate goal is ending its run as a mortal microbe.
C. diff. is a bacterium first identified in 1978 that can infect, harm and, at its worst, shut down human intestines. Such infections kill more than 29,000 Americans every year, rivaling gun violence and traffic accidents in fatalities. Five years ago it claimed my mom, a healthy Brooklyn kindergarten teacher who died after just six days with the illness.
Participants in our summit included clinical experts, frontline caregivers, health-policy professors, survivors and parents and family members of victims. We reported on work to improve data collection and public disclosure, increase treatment options and implement prevention standards. These include reducing unnecessary prescription of antibiotics, which kill beneficial bacteria in the human gut that can neutralize C. diff, in addition to contributing to microbial resistance that renders several drugs less effective.