Objectives: Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) is a common hospital-acquired infection with increasing incidence, severity, recurrence, and associated morbidity and mortality. There are emerging data on the occurrence of CDI in nonhospitalized patients. However, there is a relative lack of community-based CDI studies, as most of the existing studies are hospital based, potentially influencing the results by referral or hospitalization bias by missing cases of community-acquired CDI. Methods: To better understand the epidemiology of community-acquired C. difficile infection, a population-based study was conducted in Olmsted County, Minnesota, using the resources of the Rochester Epidemiology Project. Data regarding severity, treatment response, and outcomes were compared in community-acquired vs. hospital-acquired cohorts, and changes in these parameters, as well as in incidence, were assessed over the study period. Results: Community-acquired CDI cases accounted for 41% of 385 definite CDI cases. The incidence of both community-acquired and hospital-acquired CDI increased significantly over the study period. Compared with those with hospital-acquired infection, patients with community-acquired infection were younger (median age 50 years compared with 72 years), more likely to be female (76% vs. 60%), had lower comorbidity scores, and were less likely to have severe infection (20% vs. 31%) or have been exposed to antibiotics (78% vs. 94%). There were no differences in the rates of complicated or recurrent infection in patients with community-acquired compared with hospital-acquired infection. Conclusions: In this population-based cohort, a significant proportion of cases of CDI occurred in the community. These patients were younger and had less severe infection than those with hospital-acquired infection. Thus, reports of CDI in hospitalized patients likely underestimate the burden of disease and overestimate severity.
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