Clostridium difficile (Clostridium difficile)

Clostridium DifficileClostridium difficile, commonly called C. difficile, is a bacterium found in feces that causes mild to severe diarrhea and other serious intestinal illnesses. C. difficile is one of the most common causes of infectious diarrhea in hospitals or long-term care homes.

Image Content Provider: CDC/Lois S. Wiggs / Photo Credit: Janice Carr

Symptoms

Symptoms can appear 5 – 10 days after a person begins antibiotic treatment, but can develop as early as the first day or as late as 10 weeks after stopping antibiotic treatment. Symptoms include watery diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, bloating and cramping.

Causes

People can become infected with C. difficile if they touch surfaces such as toilets, bedpans or commode chairs that are contaminated with feces, and then touch their mouths. Health care workers can spread the bacteria to their patients if their hands are contaminated and they do not follow proper hand hygiene. Using antibiotics increases the chance of developing C. difficile. Antibiotics can destroy a person's good bowel bacteria, which allow C. difficile to grow. When this happens, the C. difficile bacteria produce toxins which can damage the bowel and cause diarrhea. Some people can have C. difficile bacteria present in their bowel and not show any symptoms.

Healthy people usually are not at risk of serious illness, but the elderly and those with other illnesses, who are taking antibiotics, are at greater risk of infection.

Treatment

If a person's symptoms are mild, treatment is not recommended. For more severe cases, medication (like antibiotics) and sometime surgery may be necessary. If antibiotic treatment is recommended, it is very important that a person take all medication as prescribed by their doctor. Using over the counter medications to stop diarrhea (e.g. Imodium) should be avoided.

Prevention

Practicing good hand hygiene is the most effective way of preventing the spread of healthcare related infections. If a person works in or visits a hospital or long-term care home, frequent hand washing preferably with soap and water, especially after using the toilet is recommended. If soap and water is not accessible, then the frequent use of alcohol based hand sanitizers is recommended. It is important to note that hand sanitizers are less effective than washing with soap and water as they do not destroy the C. difficile spores. Gloves should be worn when caring for someone with C. difficile infection or if in contact with his/her environment.


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