What is C. diff?
C. diff is a bacterium that can cause diarrhea and more serious intestinal conditions such as colitis. You may see it called other names - Clostridioides difficile (the new name), Clostridium difficile (an older name), and C. difficile. It causes close to half a million illnesses each year.
What causes C. diff infections?
C. diff bacteria are commonly found in the environment, but people usually only get C. diff infections when they are taking antibiotics. That's because antibiotics not only wipe out bad germs, they also kill the good germs that protect your body against infections. The effect of antibiotics can last as long as several months. If you come in contact with C. diff germs during this time, you can get sick. You are more likely to get a C. diff infection if you take antibiotics for more than a week.
C. diff spreads when people touch food, surfaces, or objects that are contaminated with feces (poop) from a person who has C. diff.
Who is at risk for C. diff infections?
You are at more likely to get a C. diff infection if you
- Are taking antibiotics
- Are 65 or older
- Recently stayed in a hospital or nursing home
- Have a weakened immune system
- Have had a previous infection with C. diff or were exposed to it
What are the symptoms of C. diff infections?
The symptoms of C. diff infections include
- Diarrhea (loose, watery stools) or frequent bowel movements for several days
- Stomach tenderness or pain
- Loss of appetite
Severe diarrhea causes you to lose a lot of fluids. This can put you at risk for dehydration.
How are C. diff infections diagnosed?
If you have been taking antibiotics recently and have symptoms of a C. diff infection, you should see your health care provider. Your provider will ask about your symptoms and do a lab test of your stool. In some cases, you might also need an imaging test to check for complications.
What are the treatments for C. diff infections?
Certain antibiotics can treat C. diff infections. If you were already taking a different antibiotic when you got C. diff, you provider may ask you to stop taking that one.
If you have a severe case, you may need to stay in the hospital. If you have very severe pain or serious complications, you may need surgery to remove the diseased part of your colon.
About 1 in 5 people who have had a C. diff infection will get it again. It could be that your original infection came back or that you have new infection. Contact your health care provider if your symptoms come back.
Can C. diff infections be prevented?
There are steps you can take to try to prevent getting or spreading C. diff:
- Wash your hands with soap and water after you use the bathroom and before you eat
- If you have diarrhea, clean the bathroom that you used before anyone else uses it. Use bleach mixed with water or another disinfectant to clean the toilet seat, handle, and lid.
Health care providers can also help prevent C. diff infections by taking infection control precautions and improving how they prescribe antibiotics.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Clostridium difficile Infections (National Institutes of Health)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Enterocolitis, Pseudomembranous (National Institutes of Health)