DEATHS in Wales from the superbug clostridium difficile (C Difficile) fell by more than a third during 2014, new figures reveal.

Last year's figure of 111 - down from 177 in 2013 - is the lowest figure in almost a decade.

More than 95 per cent of these deaths occurred in hospitals, with patients either having already picked up the infection prior to admission, or having contracted it during their stay.

During the early 2000s, C Difficile cases rose in many hospitals, not just in Wales, but across the UK, since when much tougher infection control regimes have been introduced to try to minimise cases.

These include the development and roll-out of the likes of hydrogen peroxide vapour deep cleaning regimes in hospital wards and departments, and a drive to minimise the prescribing of certain antibiotics which have been found to leave some patients particularly vulnerable to C Difficile.

Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and its predecessor body Gwent Healthcare Trust have been at the forefront of infection control developments in Welsh hospitals, and with the exception of 2013/14, the number of C Difficile cases in the area's hospitals has fallen for several years.

In 2014/15, the number of cases in Gwent hospitals fell by more than a third, to 149, compared to 233 the previous year.

Overall, since 2008/09 when 597 cases of C Difficile were classed as healthcare-linked in Gwent hospitals, there has been a 75 per cent reduction.

C Difficile is a bacterial infection that can affect the digestive system, and which can be life threatening in some cases. It can survive for weeks and months on surfaces.

It does not usually affect healthy people, but most commonly, problems occur in those who have had or are undergoing treatment with antibiotics, which can disrupt the natural balance of normal bacteria in the gut that would otherwise protect against C Difficile.

The figures, from the Office for National Statistics, show that the age-standardised rate for deaths involving C Difficile increased, from 22.6 to 164.8 deaths per million population during 1999-2008, but has fallen significantly, to 35.8 per million last year.

Deaths involving C Difficile rise with age, illustrating the infection's effect on the increasingly frail.

During 2012-14, the age-specific rate for deaths involving C Difficile among those aged 85 years and over was 995.3 per million population, compared with one per million for under-55s.