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Side view of senior man suffering from stomachache while sitting on bed at home

Clostridioides difficile (C. diff)

Clostridioides difficile, also known as C. diff, is a germ that can cause diarrhea. The most common symptoms of a C. diff infection include:

  • Watery diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea (sick on the stomach)
  • Belly pain and tenderness

Who is most likely to get C. diff infection?

The elderly and people with certain medical problems have the greatest chance of getting C. diff. Most cases of C. diff occur in persons who have recently been treated with antibiotics for another infection. Antibiotics can reduce the number of friendly bacteria that live in the intestines and help keep us healthy. This allows for any C. diff bacteria present in the intestines to multiply and cause illness.

C. diff spores can live outside the human body for a very long time and may be found on things in the environment such as bed linens, bed rails, bathroom fixtures, and medical equipment. C. diff infection can spread from person-to-person on contaminated equipment and on the unwashed hands of persons providing care to someone with C. diff infection.

Can C. diff infection be treated?

Yes, there are antibiotics that can be used to treat C. diff. Your doctor will discuss your treatment with you.

What are some of the things that hospitals are doing to prevent C. diff infections?

Doctors, nurses, and other health care providers:

  • Use an alcohol-based hand rub before providing care to each patient.
  • Wash their hands with soap and water after caring for every patient with C. diff. This can prevent C. diff and other germs from being passed from one patient to another on their hands.
  • Carefully clean hospital rooms and medical equipment that have been used for patients with C. diff.
  • Only give patients antibiotics when it is necessary.
  • Use Special Enteric Precautions to prevent C. diff from spreading to other patients. Special enteric precautions mean:
    • Whenever possible, patients with C. diff will have a single room or share a room only with someone else who also has C. diff.
    • Health care providers will put on gloves and wear a gown over their clothing while taking care of patients with C. diff.
    • Visitors will also be asked to wear a gown and gloves.
    • When leaving the room, health care providers and visitors remove their gown and gloves and wash their hands for at least 15 to 30 seconds.
    • Patients on Special Enteric Precautions are asked to stay in their hospital rooms as much as possible. They should not go to common areas, such as the gift shop or cafeteria. They can go to other areas of the hospital for treatments and tests.

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What can I do to help prevent C. diff infections?

  • Make sure that all doctors, nurses, and other health care providers wash their hands with soap and water or clean their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub before caring for you. Health care workers must also clean their hands after caring for you.
  • Only take antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Be sure to wash your own hands often, especially after using the bathroom and before eating.

Can my friends and family get C. diff when they visit me?

C. diff infection usually does not occur in persons who are not taking antibiotics. Visitors are not likely to get C. diff. Still, to make it safer for visitors, they should:

  • Clean their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub before they enter your room and wash their hands as they leave your room.
  • Ask the nurse if they need to wear protective gowns and gloves when they visit you.

What do I need to do when I go home from the hospital or if I am providing care to someone in my home with C. diff infection?

If you are given a prescription to treat C. diff, take the medicine exactly as prescribed by your doctor and pharmacist. Do not take half-doses or stop before you run out.

In addition, tell your doctor that you have been diagnosed with a C. diff infection. If you take medication for acid reflux or heartburn, ask your doctor if you can stop taking it for a little while. Medications for acid reflux and heartburn can increase your risk for another C. diff infection. Remind your doctor that you have C. diff if you are prescribed antibiotics for a different infection.

Continue the suggestions below until you or a family member with C. diff no longer have diarrhea:

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  • Avoid using the same toilet as other family members. If this is not possible, follow the directions below for cleaning the bathroom surfaces with a bleach solution after use.
  • Avoid sharing food utensils with the infected person until they are well. Wash dishes in the dish washer on a hot water cycle or use hot soapy water to wash and rinse. Allow the dishes to air dry.
  • Wash your hands often, especially after going to the bathroom, preparing food, or handling clothing and linens. Do not use alcohol gel hand rubs as it will not kill the C. diff germ.
    • Use liquid hand soap to wash hands thoroughly, and wash for at least 15 to 30 seconds.
    • Use paper towels to dry hands and turn off faucets.
  • People who live with you should wash their hands often as well using warm soap and water.
  • If possible, use disposable gloves when handling clothing of the infected person. Always wash your hands after you remove your gloves.
  • Routinely wash clothing and linens separately in the hottest allowed water and dry thoroughly in a hot dryer.
  • To disinfect surfaces, use a bleach solution if the surface can be safely cleaned with bleach. Use regular household bleach (not scented or splashless) to make the following solutions:
    • For stainless steel, 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water.
    • For non-porous surfaces such as tile floors, counter-tops, sinks, commodes. Use one-third (1/3) cup of chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water.

If you cannot use bleach to clean certain surfaces, use the household cleaner you normally use, clean the surface thoroughly, and allow it to air dry.


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