But Hall and colleagues also found another culprit in the rising death rate, norovirus, which was linked to roughly 800 deaths per year.
What's more, the number of gastroenteritis fatalities tended to climb much higher during years in which new strains of norovirus led to outbreaks.
And while C. difficile infections are more deadly, the team pointed out that the highly contagious norovirus is a major year-round public health threat in its own right. It is easily spread via contaminated food, water, surfaces and person-to-person contact, and has become especially notorious because of outbreaks on cruise ships. As a result, norovirus is now the number one cause of gastroenteritis illness (but not deaths) in the United States, with over 20 million infections thought to occur each year, the researchers said
What accounts for these worrisome trends? "It's in part due to the emergence of new, virulent strains," Hall believes. "And also an increased recognition on the part of doctors, who have come to recognize this is an important issue. So as a result we're getting more diagnoses," he added.
"But now that we've identified C. difficile and norovirus as the most common causes for gastroenteritis, we know that when an elderly person has diarrhea those are the bugs to be concerned about," he continued.
To minimize your infection risk, "hand hygiene is important," Hall said, "along with environmental disinfection. And in hospitals, the use of cleaning services and bleaching products is critical."
Dr. Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University Medical Center in New York City, agreed.
"Hygiene is the most important preventive measure," he said. "That means good food hygiene, with cutting boards and countertops being san
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