A study has revealed that a new antibiotic has been shown to cut the rate of relapse by almost half of infections of the C. difficile bacterium, a growing scourge in hospitals worldwide.
The researchers examined a drug called Fidaxomicin, made by Optimer Pharmaceuticals of San Diego, and compared it to the antibiotic vancomycin, the only treatment against the infection approved in the United States and Canada.
By following 629 subjects over two years in a randomized study in which patients received one of the two treatments, those who took Fidaxomicin saw a 45 percent reduction in recurrences.
"Anybody who knows C. difficile recognizes that recurrences are the major problem with this disease," said Mark Miller of the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, a co-author of the study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
"Anything that can reduce the recurrence rate, especially as dramatically as Fidaxomicin, is a very important milestone in the treatment of C. difficile."
C. difficile, which can cause anything from mild diarrhea to deadly colon inflammation, tends to afflict people in hospitals or long-term care facilities and can take hold after a patient has been on antibiotics.
Cases have been mounting in the past decade and 20 to 30 percent of patients who suffer from it once will get it again. Recurrent C diff is particularly hard to treat.
"There wasn't much interest in C. difficile for many years, because it wasn't considered a serious disease," said Miller.
"However, over the past decade the bacterium has mutated into something much more serious that has caused epidemics worldwide. It is particularly notorious for recurrences."
Fidaxomicin works by targeting bacteria inside the intestine and is minimally absorbed in the blood stream, so it kills the C. diff "without affecting the beneficial flora in the human gut which help stave off recurrences," the study said.