Hospitals in Madison, Wis. are taking action against a superbug that appears to be on the rise. To do so, they are avoiding antibiotics when they aren't needed, disinfecting rooms with ultraviolet light and installing sensors to make sure workers wash their hands properly. The push is to reduce the spread of a bacterium called Clostridium difficult, or C.diff.

According to reports from the Wisconsin State Journal, C.diff, found in the colon and spread through spores that can live on surfaces for months, can cause diarrhea, intestinal inflammation and abdominal pain. It's responsible for half a million infections, more than 20,000 deaths and at least $1 billion in healthcare costs in the U.S. per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hospitals are beefing up their battle against C.diff through an initiative by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. The group invited five community hospitals, all with proven track records in fighting infections, to expand their "antimicrobial stewardship" programs and share lessons with hospitals nationwide.

For instance, C.diff thrives in patients who take powerful, broad-spectrum antibiotics for other conditions. The drugs can kill off "good" bacteria that keep C.diff in check. Reducing unnecessary use of antibiotics and using more focused drugs can lower the risk of C.diff.

Patients who are identified with having C.diff should also quickly be isolated, minimizing the spread. Cleaners at the five hospitals use bleach to clean their rooms and require workers in the rooms to wash their hands with soap and water because alcohol-based gels don't kill the spores.

One hospital will also soon begin testing an electronic surveillance system to track whether workers wash their hands. This monitoring system has sensors that detect when workers wash their hands and when they're at the bedside caring for patients.

Another hospital is studying the benefits of using ultraviolet disinfection in some rooms. The system involves a machine featuring xenon lamps that emit ultraviolet light that disrupts the bacteria's DNA, killing the bugs or preventing them from reproducing.

Another approach being tried: studying whether patients with C.diff should get the standard antibiotics for the disease or a newer one that costs a lot more but reduces the risk of relapse. It's one of many complex decisions health systems face in preventing and treating infections, say reports.

Read this full report here.