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August 2010 | 0 Comments | Print

Know your risk for Clostridium difficile

Clostridium difficile, also called C. difficile or “C-Diff,” are bacteria that live in the intestinal tract of five percent of healthy adults and 50 percent of healthy infants. Taking antibiotics kills many bacteria types living in the healthy intestine; however C. difficile often survives, reproducing in huge numbers that begin secreting a toxin (poison) that attacks the lining of the intestine. A C. difficile infection is often called antibioticassociated diarrhea.

Identifying your risk

There are several risk factors for C. difficile, including:

  • Anyone taking antibiotics (taking multiple kinds increases the risk)
  • Hospitalized patients, especially older patients
  • Rarely, someone who is not on antibiotics
  • Persons with other inflammatory bowel diseases
  • Persons who have had surgery on the gastrointestinal system
  • Persons on chemotherapy for cancer

Recognizing symptoms

Symptoms of C-Diff include:

  • Abdominal pain, tenderness and cramping
  • Diarrhea, sometimes severe, with blood, mucous or pus
  • Fever

If you have symptoms, your doctor will ask for a stool sample to be sent to the laboratory for C. difficile testing.

Preventing the spread of C. difficile

C. difficile is very infectious. It can be spread by people who have the illness or can be present on environmental surfaces. Usually infection occurs by:

  • Your hands picking up the organism from the environment.
  • The organism enters your mouth from your hands during oral contact, such as eating or drinking.
  • If antibiotics are given, then the C. difficile has the opportunity to “take over,” causing symptoms.

You can prevent C. difficile infection by only using antibiotics when necessary. Frequently wash your hands well with soap and water when in the hospital. Be sure to wash entire hand surface, especially the fingertips and nails. Do NOT use alcohol hand sanitizers, as alcohol does not kill Clostridium germs.

What is the treatment for C. difficile?

  • Antibiotics should be stopped.
  • If diarrhea continues, a medicine called metronidazole (Flagyl) is usually effective when taken orally for 10 full days.
  • If diarrhea persists despite metronidazole, oral treatment with a medicine called vancomycin is recommended for 10 full days.
  • As many as 20 percent of patients experience a relapse, but most respond to a second course of medicine.
  • Anti-diarrheal medicines should not be used. The toxin must be excreted to prevent more severe damage to the intestine.

If antibiotics are stopped, 23 percent of C. difficile cases resolve within two to three days. If treatment is necessary, diarrhea usually resolves within two to four days of starting the medicine.


If you are diagnosed with C. difficile, you can prevent further spread by maintaining excellent hand hygiene, especially after using the bathroom. If possible, use a separate restroom that will not be used by other people.

Once the symptoms have stopped and the full course of medication has been finished, there is no need for follow-up.

Learn more about preventing infectious disease at

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