15,000 - 30,000 Annual Deaths Reflect Misplaced Federal Priorities
Almost 12,000 people died in alcohol-related vehicle crashes in 2008. About 15,000 Americans died of AIDS-related illness the same year. Both of these preventable causes of death have been the subject of massive, expensive and high-profile interventions by federal and state authorities.
By contrast, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 15,000-30,000 deaths occur annually in the US from the little known bacteria Clostridium difficile (C. diff), which may be as many as from all drunk driving and AIDS-related deaths combined. Three million Americans a year are sickened by C. diff.
Hospitals are the most likely place to contract a C. diff infection. A 2008 article in the American Journal of Infection Control stated that C. diff rates were 13 per 1,000 hospitalized patients. Death rates from C. diff are as high a 1 in 40. According to the Washington Post, "one study found C. diff on the hands of almost 60 percent of doctors and nurses caring for infected patients...."
The death and disability toll from C. diff has been met with a profound lack of appropriate response from health authorities. While federal agencies routinely order the private sector to spend enormous sums on compliance with regulations that may save a relative handful of lives, far more serious hazards go practically unnoticed.
The use of cost-benefit analysis and league tables is often scorned by regulatory activists who claim that true costs are not captured by the analyses. Rejection of quantitative tools for regulatory decision-making, however, can result in agency priorities being set by NGOs and bloggers instead of by need.
Federal authorities need to focus their regulatory and enforcement activities on C. diff with a level of resources commensurate with successfully tacking a preventable disease vector that is killing hundreds of people and sickening tens of thousands more every week.
See Washington Post article, 'Super bug' that's resistant to antibiotics threatens hospital patients"