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Antibiotics linked to intestinal illness in children

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ATLANTA, Ga. -

Under a microscope, Clostridium difficile, or C.diff doesn't look like much.

But in hospitals it's a huge - and growing - problem. Passed around, from patient to health provider to patient, C.diff makes 250,000 American hospital patients sick every year with a severe diarrhea illness.

CDC medical epidemiologist Dr. Cliff McDonald says, "Sometimes it can cause very serious, even deadly, diarrhea in adults, at least. And we're recognizing now that it's also an important problem in children."

Dr. McDonald says while two-thirds of adults pick up C.diff from a hospital setting, a new CDC study in the journal "Pediatrics" finds children are much more likely to contract C.diff outside the hospital, after taking antibiotics for things like respiratory infections.

He says, "Although they're directed at an infection in one part of the body, they also affect the bacteria in other parts of the body, in this case, the lower intestine. And those bacterial normally in the lower intestine protect us."

C.diff, which can spread on contaminated surfaces, or a health provider's hands, moves in once the "good" bacteria is gone. McDonald explains, "It opens the door for C.diff to get in, it produces toxins and damages the colon."

Early data shows about 17,000 U.S. children contract C.diff infections every year. So, the CDC research team studied some of these cases and found 71% of kids were infected outside of a hospital.

Of those "community-acquired infections, 73% taken antibiotics in the 12 weeks before they got sick.

So, how can you protect your child?

Dr. McDonald says, "First of all, don't push for antibiotics if they're not necessary. if you bring your child in to see a doctor, the pediatrician, tells you your child doesn't need antibiotics, don't push them to try to get antibiotics."

If you child does need an antibiotic, McDonald says watch for unusual diarrheal illness, and let your doctor know about it.

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