Normally harmful cells prove helpful in fighting C. diff, shed light on antibiotic use for HAIs

The same immune cells thought to cause asthma and allergies, could play a life-and-death role in helping the body fight off Clostridium difficile infections, according to new research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville.

"Antibiotics are really important, and very often you have to give antibiotics, but you do it knowing that you're predisposing your patient to another infection [C. difficile] that is potentially lethal. About one out of seven people with this infection dies in North America. So it's a terrible dilemma for physicians," Bill Petri, MD, division chief of infectious disease for UVA School of Medicine, said in a statement. "This is not a common complication of antibiotics, but when it happens, it's a very serious one. This work enables a potential long-term solution to that, which is probiotics to restore the natural state of the gut."

Antibiotics don't discriminate between "good" or "bad" gut bacteria, so when they're administered and knock out large swathes of the microorganism population in the stomach, that can leave room for bad guys, like C. diff, to take root and prosper. Eosinophils, a type of white blood cell commonly vilified for its role in asthma attacks, were identified as playing a role in maintaining the gut lining that keeps good bacteria in. The most common and aggressive strain of C. diff specifically targets and kills eosinophils.

Based on these findings, the researchers hope to be able to develop new probiotics that could be taken alongside antibiotics to specifically maintain these helpful cells.

More articles on infection control:

C. diff linked with poor outcomes for ulcerative colitis patients 
Cocktails of bacterial viruses attack C. diff while leaving healthy gut bugs unharmed 
Clinical practice guidelines for C. diff prevention — 8 things to know 

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