Charles D. Phillips, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Charles D. Phillips, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Current research indicates that as many as 90,000 individuals may die each year from health care-associated infections (HAIs) at a cost of approximately $30 billion annually to the United States. Now, a research team led by Regents Professor Charles D. Phillips, Ph.D., M.P.H., at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) School of Rural Public Health has received a $1.3 million grant to conduct a three-year study focusing on the prevention of one such HAI – C. difficile.

Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) frequently targets frail individuals in nursing homes or hospitals suffering from chronic illnesses. A potentially life-threatening gastroenteric infection, it is triggered by the effects of antibiotics on the gastrointestinal tract.

The study, funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), will focus on management and prevention of C. difficile. The project involves development of a state-of-the-art prevention and treatment strategy for dealing with the infection in nursing homes and as a communication tool concerning HAIs that will accompany individuals as they transfer from one health care setting to another.

“As the population of aged or frail individuals in our society increases, we must address the problems that arise not only from illnesses themselves, but also from the treatment of those illnesses,” Dr. Phillips said. “Many health professionals are concerned that C. difficile may now be the most threatening of a variety of HAIs. This award is very timely. It may allow us to develop effective strategies for combating a serious threat to the health of some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

The TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health’s research team – consisting of Dr. Phillips; Catherine Hawes, Ph.D.; Darcy Moudouni, Ph.D.; Tiffany Radcliff, Ph.D.; Hongwei Zhao, Sc.D.; and other students in the health services research doctoral program – will collaborate with researchers at the American Institutes for Research offices in North Carolina and health care quality improvement experts from the TMF Health Quality Institute in Austin.  Dr. Phillips is also leading another related AHRQ-funded project that involves these same organizations where they are implementing an intervention in nursing homes to assist in improving antibiotic stewardship.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell