INFECTIONS with the hospital bug clostridium difficile are rising among patients of working age in Scotland - reversing a previous crackdown.

New figures show consecutive increases in the number of people under the age of 65 falling ill with C-diff, the bug at the centre of the Vale of Leven hospital scandal.

Rates were higher than expected in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde last year, despite the move in May to the new Queen Elizabeth University Hospital where everyone has a single room to stop infections spreading.

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Across Scotland the number of C-diff infections in patients aged 16-64 rose through-out 2015 reaching the highest level in five years in the final months - the first time infection rates have climbed at the onset of winter since 2007.

An investigation has been launched by Health Protection Scotland into the reasons for the rise with theories including NHS staff suffering guidelines "fatigue".

C-diff is a bacterium that can infect the bowel and cause diarrhoea. It is most common among people who have recently been treated with antibiotics and it can spread easily. Those over the age of 65 are most at risk from infections and

overall there was a decline in the number of patients falling ill in this age group.

Dr Camilla Wiuff, lead for C-diff at Health Protection Scotland, said there was widespread awareness that elderly people were vulnerable to the bug. She continued: "Where you could have more variation is in the younger age group particularly if you look across Scotland, there could be pockets of practitioners somewhere that may be are not so aware of the risks in the younger age group."

Rates of C-diff used to be much higher in Scottish hospitals with thousands of patients over the age of 65 falling ill every year. A crackdown both on antibiotic prescribing and hospital hygiene have helped reduce the number of infections significantly.

However, while there has also been a reduction in patients under the age of 65 catching C-diff, the new figures show a rise from 475 cases across Scotland in 2014 to 543 in 2015. In NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde there were 162 cases in 2015, up from 119 the previous year and in NHS Grampian, 58 cases in 2015 compared to 27 in 2014. Health Protection Scotland highlighted both boards for experiencing a statistically significant change.

In a statement NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: "A rise in clostridium difficile infection was identified in October / November last year. An immediate review was carried out and found that cases were scattered across different hospitals, however there was no evidence of cross infection.

"Antibiotics can also cause C-diff infections so additional information on this has been shared with our staff to try to reduce the amount antibiotics prescribed routinely in our hospitals.

"Figures have returned to normal levels in the first quarter of this year."