Riverside Hospital Tests Vaccine Against Super Bug

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Doctors at Riverside Hospital hope to reign in a killer and end misery for thousands of Americans, with a new vaccine.  Tests have just started on one to fight the super bug called Clostridium Difficile, known as C-Diff.

Patients most at risk are those who have had antibiotics, who have been hospitalized, or who live in nursing homes.

Worthington resident Jill Stern spends a lot of time scrubbing her hands.  She doesn't want a flare up of an illness she cannot seem to kick C-Diff. It's an intestinal bacteria that, ironically, multiplies when antibiotics kill off other bacteria.

"And as it grows, it produces a toxin that is very irritating and damaging to the lining of the colon," explained Dr. Ian Baird, infectious disease specialist at Riverside Hospital.

It kills 14-thousand people a year, and hospitalizes thousands more, but Dr. Baird sees hope on the horizon.  That's because he's lead investigator at Riverside Hospital to test the first vaccine that may prevent this often deadly disease.  

Jill knows just how debilitating C-Diff can be.  She has no idea how she got it but says her illness started last year when her stomach swelled.

"I felt like I was 9 months pregnant and I started getting a lot of pain. In the bathroom ten times a day, maybe 15.  It was awful," she said.

When doctors diagnosed Jill, they put her in isolation.

"We have a couple three drugs that are approved for treatment, but they don't work as well as we would like them to," Dr. Baird said.

Jill improved, until she developed an ear infection and got an antibiotic from a drugstore clinic.

"Five days into my antibiotic I had C-Diff again flaring up terribly and ended up in the hospital again with the complications," Jill said.

She worries about what might happen in the future if she gets seriously ill with different bacteria.

"What will I do the next time I have an ear infection or something that requires an antibiotic?  I can never take them without a 75 percent risk of getting this back."

Dr. Baird says that the clinical trial for the C-Diff vaccine will last five years.  If it proves safe and effective, he thinks surgical patients might be the first to get the vaccine.  That's because patients often are given antibiotics as a preventive before an operation.

"What really excites me is that fact that in infectious diseases we always want to try to prevent illness rather than treat it after it’s occurred," the doctor said.

But Jill dreams of a vaccine to end her illness, too.

"I would get it immediately," she said.