Infections with the lethal hospital bug Clostridium difficile rose to a record last year, defying efforts to curb the growing threat.

Figures released yesterday by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) showed that there were 42,625 cases between January and September, up from 40,390 in the same period in 2005, a rise of 5.5 per cent. Cases of the infection have doubled since the late 1990s, and have increased more than tenfold in the past 15 years.

The bacterium mainly affects the elderly causing severe diarrhoea, which can lead to intestinal gangrene. It causes 2,000 deaths a year.

Bloodstream infections with methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) showed a small decline to 3,391 in the six months from April to September. The fall of 5 per cent, compared with the same period in the previous year, is not a fast enough rate of progress for the Government to hit its target of halving the infection rate by 2008. MRSA causes 1,000 deaths a year.

Georgia Duckworth, the head of antimicrobial Resistance at the HPA, said there was a plateau in MRSA cases rather than a significant decrease.

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