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Preventative antibiotics may prevent C. diff infection for some blood-cancer patients

Hospital patients who undergo a stem cell transplant to treat blood cancers must take immune-suppressing drugs to prevent rejection of the donor cells.

But along with that comes an increased risk of infections, such as a dangerous bacteria called C. difficile

A new University of Pennsylvania study identified a possible solution: administering preventative antibiotics.

At Penn's Abramson Cancer Center, physicians gave an oral antibiotic called vancomycin twice a day to 73 of these blood cancer patients undergoing an allogeneic stem cell transplant — in which patients receive stem cells from a healthy donor. The patients took the antibiotics from the day they were admitted until discharge.

None of these patients developed "C. diff" infections.

But in a separate group of 55 patients who did not get the preventative antibiotics, 11 patients (20 percent) developed the infection.

Nationwide, up to 30 percent of patients receiving this type of stem-cell transplant contract a C. diff infection, which can cause severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, and even kidney failure.

The authors are presenting the study results this week at the American Society of Hematology meeting in San Diego.

Because the antibiotics were given on a prophylactic basis, that meant the doctors were giving the drugs to some patients who would not have gotten sick anyway.  The Penn physicians cautioned that further study is needed before considering the preventative approach in other patients, in order to avoid the overuse of antibiotics.

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