Cases of the infection Clostridium difficile have risen by over 5 per cent in the past year, according to figures published this week by the Health Protection Agency.

This is the first time the HPA had published quarterly figures for the mandatory surveillance of C difficile and MRSA.

Their publication follows a leaked Department of Health memo revealed by HSJlast month, which warned that C difficile is now 'endemic...with virtually all trusts reporting cases' (news, page 6, 11 January).

The figures show 42,625 cases of C difficile for the first three-quarters of 2006, showing a 5.5 per cent increase on 2005.

Dr Georgia Duckworth, head of the agency's healthcare-associated infection and antimicrobial resistance department, said: 'There clearly remains much to be done. Cases of C difficile continue to rise: there may be some slowing down in the rate of increase, but it is too early to say for sure'.

In December the DoH said NHS organisations would be required to set local targets on C difficile.

The agency's figures show what they describe as a 'plateau' in the number of cases of MRSA. The latest figures show a 5 per cent decrease from September 2005 with 3,391 cases of MRSA bloodstream infection reported in England from April to September 2006. Since the surveillance started in April 2001, rates have fluctuated between 1.69 and 1.88 cases per 10,000 bed days.

Dr Duckworth said: 'With MRSA rates we are still seeing a plateau rather than significant decrease.'