Objective: To determine if the spread of Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea is related to the use of electronic thermometers in an acute hospital and a chronic healthcare facility.
Design: After finding that a significant percentage (20.8%) of electronic rectal thermometer handles were contaminated with C difficile, all electronic thermometers were replaced with disposables. A before/after trial was conducted to determine if the change to disposable thermometers would reduce the incidence of C difficile-associated diarrhea.
Setting: The study took place in a 343-bed acute hospital and a 538-bed skilled nursing facility.
Patients: All patients who underwent routine microbiological evaluation for nosocomially acquired diarrhea over a 1-year period were included in the study. Nosocomial diarrhea was defined as 3 or more loose stools per day for 2 consecutive days and/or abdominal findings such as pain, distension, and ileus occurring 3 or more days after admission.
Results: During the 6-month postintervention period, the incidence of C difficile-associated diarrhea was reduced from 2.71/1,000 patient days to 1.76/1,000 patient days in the acute hospital and from 0.41/1,000 patient days to 0.11/1,000 patient days in the skilled nursing facility. The protective effect of the intervention was statistically significant for both facilities.
Conclusions: Replacement of electronic thermometers with single-use disposables significantly reduced the incidence of C difficile-associated diarrhea in both acute care and skilled nursing care facilities. Data suggest that the rectal route may be important in the transmission of C difficile in these settings.