Learning About Clostridium Difficile Infection

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What is C. diff?

Clostridium difficile (also called C. diff) is a type of bacteria. It can cause swelling and irritation of the colon (colitis). Colitis can cause watery diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, dehydration, and belly pain and tenderness.

C. diff infection is most common in people who are taking antibiotics or have taken them in the past few weeks. It is also more likely to infect older people and people who are getting chemotherapy for cancer. Though colitis can be mild, it can become serious, especially for people who have a weak immune system.

The large intestine normally contains many good bacteria that keep it healthy and do not cause disease. When you take an antibiotic to kill bacteria that do cause disease, your medicine may also kill the good bacteria. This can allow C. diff bacteria to grow and release harmful toxins.

If you are still taking an antibiotic, your doctor may have you stop taking it, because it may have led to the C. diff infection. Your doctor may then treat C. diff colitis with a different antibiotic.

It's important that your C. diff does not spread to other people. Preventing the spread of C. diff is a top health concern in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

How does C. diff get passed to other people?

C. diff can be passed from person to person. It can also be passed from person to object to person.

If you have a C. diff infection, you can spread it if you don't wash your hands well enough after you use the washroom. Anything you touch, like a door handle, bed rail, or phone, can then carry the bacteria. C. diff can live on objects for a very long time.

C. diff infection spreads to other people when they touch an object that has C. diff on it and then use their hands to eat or rub their faces.

Health care workers can pass C. diff from room to room in a hospital or a long-term care facility. Visitors can also spread it.

How can you avoid spreading C. diff infection?

When you have C. diff, you and everyone around you must take special care to avoid spreading it. You must use extra care after you use the washroom.

The best way to prevent spreading C. diff is to wash your hands well and often. The rubbing and rinsing action helps wash the bacteria from your skin.

  • Wash your hands with running water and soap.
  • Rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds.
  • Pay special attention to your wrists, the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
  • Don't touch the faucet with your hand. Use a paper towel to turn off the water.

Don't use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead of washing your hands with soap and water. Sanitizer will not kill C. diff.

In the hospital

  • Ask your nurse if visitors need to wear special gowns and gloves.
  • Remind your visitors to wash their hands before they visit and as they leave your room.
  • Expect the hospital staff to use extra precautions. That means following safe handwashing routines and wearing gloves and gowns. They may wear masks when cleaning.

If it seems that a staff person isn't being as careful as you expect, ask what steps the hospital uses to control the spread of your infection. This might help remind him or her to be more careful.

At home

After your diarrhea is better, you are much less likely to spread a C. diff infection. Still, you must:

  • Regularly clean washroom surfaces with bleach water to kill any C. diff spores. Use 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.
  • Wash your hands often and well, especially after you use the washroom and before you make and eat food.
  • Remind everyone in your home to also wash hands often.

If you start having diarrhea again, call your doctor or nurse call line right away.

Your doctor will tell you when you no longer need to take special care to prevent spreading C. diff.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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