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How Do You Get C. diff (Clostridium difficile)?

Reviewed on 12/10/2020

What Is C. diff (Clostridium difficile)?

C. diff (Clostridium difficile) is contagious. While most cases are caused by antibiotic use, people can also get C. difficile infection from touching infected people or surfaces and not washing their hands. Even if people have no symptoms of C. diff infection, they can still spread the infection to others.
C. diff (Clostridium difficile) is contagious. While most cases are caused by antibiotic use, people can also get C. difficile infection from touching infected people or surfaces and not washing their hands. Even if people have no symptoms of C. diff infection, they can still spread the infection to others.

C. diff (C. difficile) is bacteria that normally lives in the intestines. When people take antibiotics, the C. difficile in their intestines can grow out of control and cause severe diarrhea and colitis (inflammation of the colon). People can also get C. difficile infection from touching infected people or surfaces and not washing their hands.

What Are Symptoms of C. diff (Clostridium difficile)?

Symptoms of C. diff (Clostridium difficile) can begin within a few days after starting antibiotics and may include:

  • Severe diarrhea
  • Watery diarrhea 
  • 3 or more bowel movements for 2 or more days
  • Fever
  • Abdominal tenderness, pain, or cramps
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Blood or pus in the stool
  • Loss of fluids (dehydration
  • Dark yellow urine 
  • Thirst
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness 
  • Confusion
In some cases, people may have no symptoms of C. diff infection (they are considered “colonized”) but they can still spread the infection to others.

What Causes C. diff (Clostridium difficile)?

Most cases of C. diff occur from taking antibiotics. Most people have C. difficile in their intestines and it doesn’t cause problems. When people take antibiotics, it can disrupt the normal balance of bacteria in the intestines and allow C. difficile to grow out of control, resulting in symptoms. 

Risk factors for C. diff (Clostridium difficile) infection include:

  • Age 65 or older
  • Recent hospital or nursing home stay
  • C. diff infection is more common in healthcare settings because many people who have C. diff are being treated in those facilities
  • Weakened immune system, such as people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or organ transplant recipients taking immunosuppressive medications
  • Previous infection with C. diff or known exposure to the bacteria

QUESTION

Pancreatitis is inflammation of an organ in the abdomen called the pancreas. See Answer

Is C. diff (Clostridium difficile) Contagious?

C. diff (Clostridium difficile) is contagious. While most cases are caused by antibiotic use, people can also get C. difficile infection from touching infected people or surfaces and not washing their hands.

Even if people have no symptoms of C. diff infection, they can still spread the infection to others.

However, most healthy adults will not get sick from contact with C. diff.

How Is C. diff (Clostridium difficile) Diagnosed?

Along with a physical exam and patient history, C. difficile infection is diagnosed with a stool test.

What Is the Treatment for C. diff (Clostridium difficile)?

If you are diagnosed with C. diff (Clostridium difficile) and it is determined to be caused by taking a particular antibiotic, you may be switched to another antibiotic. (Never stop taking a prescribed medication without first talking to your doctor.) 

Antibiotics prescribed to treat C. diff include vancomycin or fidaxomicin, generally taken for at least 10 days. In some cases, a second round of antibiotics may be needed. 

Patients with severe symptoms may need to be hospitalized. Because C. diff is contagious, healthcare providers wear gowns and gloves to prevent the spread of C. diff to themselves and to other patients.

In serious cases, patients may need a fecal transplant (bacteriotherapy), which involves the transfer of stool from a healthy donor into the gastrointestinal tract to help restore the balance of healthy bacteria in the intestine. 

In a very small number of patients who have extremely severe cases of C. diff infection (“fulminant” C. difficile colitis, in which the condition comes on suddenly and worsens quickly and is accompanied by hypotension or shock, ileus, or megacolon), surgery may be needed.

Home remedies to help relieve symptoms of C. diff include: 

  • Drinking plenty of liquids with water, salt, and sugar such as water mixed with juice, flavored soda, and soup broth
  • If you can keep food down, eat a little
    • Bland, easy-to-digest foods are best, such as potatoes, pasta, rice, oatmeal, crackers, bananas, soup, and boiled vegetables
  • Talk to your doctor to see if they recommend probiotics, which are a type of “good” bacteria for the intestines

How Do You Prevent C. diff (Clostridium difficile)?

To help prevent C. difficile infection:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom and before eating
    • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers have NOT been proven to prevent the spread of C. difficile
  • Use a separate bathroom when possible if you have diarrhea
  • If you visit someone hospitalized for C. difficile infection, follow all guidelines about washing hands and wearing gloves and other protective gear 

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Reviewed on 12/10/2020
References
https://www.uptodate.com/contents/antibiotic-associated-diarrhea-c-difficile-infection-the-basics

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clostridioides-formerly-clostridium-difficile-infection-in-adults-treatment-and-prevention

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/surgical-management-of-clostridioides-formerly-clostridium-difficile-colitis-in-adults

https://www.cdc.gov/cdiff/risk.html
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