What is C. difficile?
C. difficile is one of the many types of bacteria that can be found in the bowel, and has been a known cause of health care-associated diarrhea for about 30 years.
Where does C. difficile come from?
C. difficile is not new. Although people may associate it with health care settings, it doesn’t come from hospitals, long-term care homes or laboratories. It is found in the intestine, occurring naturally in 3-5% of adults (more commonly in the elderly) without causing symptoms.
What causes C. difficile?
C. difficile can be picked up on the hands from exposure in the environment and can get into the stomach once the mouth is touched, or if food is handled and then swallowed. Once in the stomach, the bacteria usually will not cause any problems unless the other bowel bacteria are disturbed, which can happen when antibiotics are taken. The use of antibiotics increases the chances of developing C. difficile diarrhea as it alters the normal level of good bacteria found in the intestines and colon.
Without the presence of the normal bowel bacteria, the C. difficile bacteria may start to grow and produce a toxin that can damage the bowel and lead to watery diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain or tenderness.
How does C. Difficile spread?
When a person has C. difficile, the bacteria in their feces can contaminate surfaces such as toilets, bedpans, commode chairs, and door handles (if feces is on hands). Other healthy individuals can contaminate their hands if they touch these items. If these individuals then touch their mouths without washing their hands, they can become infected.
The spread of C. difficile occurs due to inadequate hand hygiene and environmental cleaning. C. difficile produces spores that survive for long periods and are resistant to destruction by many environmental factors (e.g. temperature, humidity).
Good hand hygiene is the single-most effective way to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like C. difficile.
What does hospital acquired infection mean?
Sometimes when patients are admitted to the hospital, they get infections while they are in the hospital. This is a hospital-acquired infection or a nosocomial infection, such as MRSA, VRE or C. difficile.
How is C. difficile treated?
Treatment depends on how sick you are. People with mild symptoms may not need treatment. For more severe disease, antibiotics are required.