Volume 5, Number 2—April 1999
Estimated Incidence of Clostridium difficile Infection
To the Editor: Since the publication of our article Increasing hospitalization and death, possibly due to Clostridium difficile diarrheal disease (1), we have received several requests to estimate the incidence of C. difficile infection. Our original study included only hospitalized patients treated at the Lovelace Medical Center from 1993 to 1996, and no information on the incidence of C. difficile infection. In response to these requests, we used inpatient and outpatient medical claims for the Lovelace managed care population to calculate incidence rates. We searched medical claims for the Lovelace Health Plan/Senior Plan (LHP) to identify patients who had a C. difficile diagnosis between January 1, 1993, and December 31, 1997. LHP members are residents of New Mexico, most residing in or near Albuquerque.
LHP had approximately 713,000 person-years of enrollment from 1993 to 1997. We identified 104 members with a C. difficile diagnosis on a claims record during this period. This group includes most of the patients in our original study. Most patients (62.5%) were identified exclusively from inpatient records; another 15.4% had both an inpatient and an outpatient record with a C. difficile diagnosis; and 22.1% had only an outpatient C. difficile diagnosis. We calculated an age-adjusted rate of infection (adjusted to the 1990 U.S. population), for each year and for the 5-year period. The incidence of C. difficile infection for all members during 1993 to 1997 was 14.8 cases per 100,000 person-years of enrollment. The patients rates for male and female were essentially the same (14.4 vs. 15.5, respectively). The rates increased dramatically with age. For persons ages 0-4, the age-adjusted rate per 100,000 person-years of enrollment (number of cases) was 5.3 (2); for 5-14, 2.7 (3), for 15-24, 2.2 (2); for 24-34, 6.4 (6); for 35-44, 9.2 (12); for 45-54, 15.7 (17); 55-64, 16.8 (10); 65-74, 38.5 (19); and 75+, 98.9 (33). The overall average rate of infection was 15.4; there were 104 cases.
The rate of infection may have declined since 1993 in this population. The 1993 rate was 24.5 per 100,000 person-years of enrollment, declining to 11.1 in 1997 (1993, 24.4; 1994, 19.1; 1995, 9.9; 1996, 12.3; and 1997, 11.1).
Our method for estimating rates has some limitations. We did not examine laboratory records to confirm the diagnosis. In addition, some laboratory-confirmed infections may not have resulted in a claims record with a C. difficile diagnosis. The Lovelace managed-care population is an insured, generally healthy population that may not have the characteristics of patients in other health care delivery settings or, because of its geographic restriction, the characteristics of the general U.S. population. Nevertheless, these estimates provide a basis for determining the magnitude of the public health problem of C. difficile infection. Additional surveillance studies are needed to better estimate the incidence of infection and to determine whether the incidence has declined during recent years.