They're live microorganisms commonly found in yogurt, and they may just be the key to warding off C. difficile.

A new study released today shows that probiotics could significantly minimize C. difficile, a potentially deadly infection that has plagued three Hamilton hospitals this year.

The study was born at McMaster University, where lead author Bradley Johnston did the research. Co-authors Mark Loeb and Gordon Guyatt are also McMaster researchers.


Dr. Mark Loeb from McMaster University worked on a research team led by Dr. Bradley Johnston that discovered probiotics decrease the incidence of C. difficile-related diarrhea. (McMaster University)

By looking at data from other studies of C. difficile patients, the team found that probiotics reduced the new cases of C. difficile-associated diarrhea in 66 per cent of the 3,818 cases.

It's a breakthrough relevant to Hamilton, Loeb said. Juravinski Hospital, Hamilton General Hospital and St. Joseph's Charlton campus all experienced C. difficile outbreaks this year.

"C. difficile is a huge problem for hospitalized patients," Loeb said. This sort of solution "would reduce a big burden on hospitals."

While probiotics are not a "magic bullet," this study shows that hospitals and nursing homes should be serving more yogurt and probiotic dairy products, said Johnston.

A University of Ottawa study from 2010 shows that the rate of death for C. difficile patients is one in 10.

The next step in proving the link would be a large-scale test on hospital patients to see if a diet of increased probiotics decreases C. difficile rates, Loeb said.

But if yogurt is an answer, that's very good news. Probiotics are easily integrated into the diets of hospital patients, Loeb said.

"This could be easily implemented."

The study was published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.