Ten Facts About C. diff

Clostridium difficile is a highly contagious, gram-positive, rod shaped bacterium that is usually found in the digestive system of healthy adults where it is largely kept under control thanks to the delicate balance of your stomach’s natural bacteria.

If you or a relative have been admitted for a long hospital stay you might have heard of it by its abbreviated form C. diff, but what else do we know about the bug?


1. Although most commonly referred to as C. diff, it actually stands for Clostridium difficile, which is pronounced Klos-strid-ee-um diff-ee-seal.

2. The C. diff bacterium is found in the digestive system of roughly 1 in 30 people.  The reason why it does not cause a problem is thanks to the other bacteria that are present in your bowel which keep C. diff under control.

3. When a patient has been treated with antibiotics the balance of bacteria in their digestive system can be disturbed allowing the C. diff bacteria to multiply and produce toxins which cause a Clostridium difficile infection.

4. The people most at risk from catching a C. diff infection are those who have been taking antibiotics, have been in hospital for a long stay, or recent patients of digestive surgery.  In addition, elderly patients, people who have a weakened immune system and those with underlying conditions such as cancer, irritable bowels and kidney disease are also at a higher risk.

5. If you catch a C. diff infection the most common symptoms can include watery diarrhoea, stomach cramps, feeling nauseous, dehydration, fever, loss of appetite and even weight loss.

6. The most common approach to treating a C. diff infection is for the patient to stop taking any antibiotics that are potentially causing the imbalance of bacteria in the stomach.  Another course of antibiotics can then be prescribed to fight off the C. diff bug.  In very serious cases, patients might need surgery to remove a section of the bowel if it’s been damaged.

7. Most patients tend to recover fully after two weeks, although roughly 20% of treatments have to be repeated if the infection has not been fully cleared.  Even after symptoms have cleared up, patients could still be infectious for another 48 hours so it is advised to stay at home and fully recover making sure you complete the full course of antibiotics.

8. The infection is spread from patient to patient forming spores which can survive on hands, textiles, surfaces and clothing – unless they are carefully cleaned and disinfected.  C. diff bacteria can survive on surfaces for around 24 hours, whilst spores can survive for months at a time without a host.

9. The best way of reducing the risk of the infection spreading is by not sharing towels and washing any clothes or bedding that might be infected with C. diff at the highest temperature recommended in a separate load from any other washing.

10. Above all, practicing good hand hygiene is key to helping against the spread of C. diff – alcohol hand gels won’t work against this bug so washing hands thoroughly with soap and water is advised.


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Image: CDC

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