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25 January 2017, 06:11
Overuse of antibiotics was the main reason for a serious stomach bug outbreak that spread through UK hospitals in the mid-2000s.
Oxford University scientists have said limiting antibiotic treatment rather than a deep cleaning programme introduced in 2007 eventually brought the C. diff epidemic under control.
The findings highlight the threat to public health posed by unrestricted use of antibiotics, which promotes bacterial drug resistance.
Professor Derrick Crook, a microbiologist from Oxford University, said: "Alarming increases in UK hospital infections and fatalities caused by C. difficile made headline news during the mid-2000s and led to accusations of serious failings in infection control.
"Emergency measures such as 'deep cleaning' and careful antibiotic prescribing were introduced and numbers of C. difficile infections gradually fell by 80% but no-one was sure precisely why.
"Our study shows that the C. difficile epidemic was an unintended consequence of intensive use of an antibiotic class, fluoroquinolones, and control was achieved by specifically reducing use of this antibiotic class, because only the C. difficile bugs that were resistant to fluoroquinolones went away.
"Reducing the type of antibiotics like ciprofloxacin was, therefore, the best way of stopping this national epidemic of C. difficile and routine, expensive deep cleaning was unnecessary.
"However it is important that good hand hygiene continues to be practised to control the spread of other infections.
"These findings are of international importance because other regions such as North America, where fluoroquinolone prescribing remains unrestricted, still suffer from epidemic numbers of C. difficile infections.''