OBJECTIVE: It is widely believed that Clostridium difficile (C. difficile)-associated diarrhea is a more severe disease in the elderly than in the young, associated with increased morbidity and mortality. These beliefs are largely anecdotal, and there are few data supporting them. METHODS: We conducted an evaluation in an urban, tertiary care hospital of 89 inpatients in whom C. difficile-associated diarrhea was identified. These patients were evaluated prospectively, and the group was divided by age into those <60 yr of age (younger) and those ≥60 yr (elderly). RESULTS: There was no difference in mortality or morbidity in elderly individuals with C. difficile-associated diarrhea when compared with younger persons similarly infected. The response to standard treatment was similar in both groups. Older patients were more likely to have an elevated white blood cell count in association with C. difficile-associated diarrhea (60% vs 26%, p < 0.05), and were more likely to have acquired their infection in the hospital (89% vs 50%, p < 0.0001). CONCLUSIONS: In the elderly, C. difficile-associated diarrhea is almost always acquired in institutions, and may not be obvious among patients' other problems. The elderly do not seem to have an increase in C. difficile diarrhea-associated morbidity or mortality. There is no evidence that C. difficile-associated diarrhea is more severe in the elderly than it is in the young.
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