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You might say Jacob Epstein, a lean, healthy, 88-year-old Floridian, died in early May from a broken arm. Following surgery to reset the bone, he was given an antibiotic to prevent postoperative infection, a common hospital practice.

His daughter, Beth Fidanza, recalled that within a week her father developed diarrhea caused by a particularly nasty intestinal bacterium called Clostridium difficile, or C. diff. Another antibiotic seemed to eradicate the disease, but a month later the gut infection recurred. Mr. Epstein was given another antibiotic, but within days developed a fatal combination of kidney failure, dangerously low blood pressure and gastrointestinal bleeding.

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