Clostridium Difficile

This page will provide you with information about Clostridium difficile. For further details, you should speak to your consultant

What is clostridium difficile?

Clostridium difficile, often referred to as C-diff, is a harmful bacterium that forms in areas where there is no oxygen. C-diff is most common among people who have been in hospital and it causes diarrhoea. C-diff is actually present in two thirds of healthy children and 3 in every 100 healthy adults. C-diff produces spores, which are resistant cells, and these can exist on the body for months. C-diff can spread easily from person to person (see figure 1). 

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Generally speaking, C-diff only ever proves a problem when people are taking a course of antibiotics which cause an imbalance of bacteria in the bowel and results in the C-diff growing in high numbers. The bowel lining is often damaged by a toxin created by the C-diff, and it is this which can lead to diarrhoea. Other symptoms of C-diff include: a high temperature, stomach cramps, feeling of nausea and vomiting.

Who is most at risk of getting a C-diff infection?

People with a good immune system do not tend to get C-diff infections, even if they are on antibiotics. People must susceptible to the infection include:

  • People who are regularly ill
  • People over 65
  • People who have regular had surgery on their bowels
  • People who have stayed in hospital for more than three weeks

Most cases of C-diff infections originate from hospitals and nursing homes.

How does C-diff spread?

The spores created by C-diff are able to live outside of the body for months. Spread by diarrhoea, they contaminate surfaces, objects and people’s hands. While alcohol-based spirit gel will not kill the spores, washing your hands thoroughly and regularly with water and soap will help limit the chance of the infection spreading. If you are in hospital, do not feel afraid to ask the healthcare team if they have washed their hands thoroughly before treating you.

How is C-diff tested?

If you are suffering from diarrhoea but do not know the reason why, then it may be due to a C-diff infection. To check, you will be required to give a sample of your stool to a member of the hospital staff who will then send it to a laboratory to test it for the infection.

What will happen if I do have C-diff?

If you have C-diff in hospital, you are likely to be treated in isolation, or together with other people who also have the infection. If they are able to do so, the healthcare team will take you off the infection-causing antibiotics, which in some cases will stop the infection altogether. You may also be given other medication which will help kill the C-diff in the bowel and prevent it from developing further. Most patients recover after 2-3 of being treated; however, a surgical procedure may be necessary if parts of your bowel are significantly damaged.

Will my visitors be at risk?

It is highly unlikely that your visitors will contract a C-diff infection from you, particularly if they are healthy and have strong immune systems. Nevertheless, they should make sure they wash their hands with soap and water after visiting you.

What do I need to do when I go home?

Following treatment, it is not uncommon for you to still carry C-diff in your bowels. When you return home, however, the risk of the infection spreading to people you come into contact with remains low. To help prevent the infection from returning it is important for you to continue washing your hands with soap and water. If you get diarrhoea again that you must get back in contact with your doctor. 


References: EIDO Healthcare Limited - The operation and treatment information on this website is produced using information from EIDO Healthcare Ltd and is licensed by Aspen Healthcare.

The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

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