Background: Rates of Clostridium difficile diarrhoea have recently been rising, with the elderly being at highest risk.
Aim: To compare the incidence of C. difficile colonization and diarrhoea in elderly patients treated for presumed infection with either empirical cefotaxime (CTX) or piperacillin-tazobactam (PT).
Methods: A prospective, ward-based, crossover study was carried out on two well-matched care of the elderly wards at a UK tertiary care hospital, in patients requiring empirical broad-spectrum antibiotic treatment.
Results: There was a highly significant increased incidence of C. difficile colonization (26/34 vs. 3/14, P=0.001) and diarrhoea (18/34 vs. 1/14, P=0.006) in patients who received CTX as opposed to PT. DNA fingerprinting suggested that most infections arose from strains acquired from the hospital environment.
Conclusions: Elderly patients are significantly less likely to develop C. difficile diarrhoea after treatment with PT than after CTX. The source of C. difficile appears to be predominantly from the ward environment.