PUBLIC health experts in East Lancashire are fighting a new battle against hospital-acquired infections.

But the struggle is not just against MRSA, so often linked to infection deaths up and down the country.

Clostridium difficile, or C. Dif., is the latest superbug which is making NHS officials sit up and take notice.

Latest figures for C. Dif. in the Royal Blackburn and Burnley General hospitals shows an upward trend for the bug.

The number of cases per quarter were either just below or above the 50 mark - but this had leapt to 88 by the turn of the year.

Unlike it's more infamous counter-part, combatting C. Dif. doesn't rely on special wipes, or alcohol wash dispensers which need constant refilling.

Overcoming C. Dif. is relatively straightforward - old-fashioned cleanliness, plenty of hand-washing and the proper disposal of clinical waste, should be sufficient.

Mild cases invoke stomach cramps and diarrhoea - more serious versions can cause victims to pass blood and mucous and suffer abdominal cramps. An erratic heartbeat is another symptom.

Transmitted via spores, which can survive up to 70 days, it can linger on worktops, floors, bedpans and toilets.

Affected areas can be disinfected using appropriate forms of bleach.

Hospitals' chairman Jo Cubbon told a recent board meeting: "People have got used to hand gels (for MRSA) and that's great - if you are coming into hospitals then you need to use the dispensers. People are very well versed in that. Now we have to remind all staff they need to use soap and water to tackle C. Difficile as well."

Recorded MRSA levels are still above government guidelines for 2006-07 though - although hospital bosses have argued that the target was particularly stringent.

The total numbers of cases in 2005 was 56, and had risen to 64 for the following 12-month period.

Hospital performance director Jackie Hawden says in a trust board report that the overall trend for the timescale is downwards - six cases were reported in January and one in February.

MRSA is also a growing difficulty in Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale, as East Lancashire Primary Care Trust (PCT) has discovered.

For the last quarter of 2006 there were 34 cases, opposed to just 25 in winter 2005.