Clostridium Difficile : Infection Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment

Author: Thomas C. Weiss - Contact:
Published: 2014/09/12 - Updated: 2020/03/21
Peer-Reviewed: N/A
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Synopsis: Information regarding Clostridium difficile, also known as C. difficile or simply C. diff, a bacteria with symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. Some people carry the C. diff bacterium in their intestines, yet never become ill, although they may still spread the infection. C. difficile bacteria are found throughout the environment in air, soil, water, animal and human feces, as well as food products to include processed meats.


Main Digest

Illness from C. diff most commonly affects older adults in hospitals or long-term care facilities and usually occurs after use of antibiotics. Studies; however, have shown increasing rates of C. diff infection among people traditionally not considered to be high risk such as healthy younger people without a history of antibiotic use or exposure to health care facilities. Every year, more than a half-million people become ill from C. diff and in more recent years, C. diff infections have become more frequent, severe and hard to treat.

Symptoms of C. Difficile Infection

Some people carry the C. diff bacterium in their intestines, yet never become ill, although they may still spread the infection. C. diff illness usually develops during, or within a few months after, a course of antibiotics. What follows are descriptions of the symptoms associated with mild to moderate and severe C. diff infections.

The signs and symptoms of a severe C. diff infection can include the following:

Some people experience loose stools during, or shortly after, antibiotic therapy - potentially due to C. diff infection. Visit your doctor if you have 3 or more watery stools a day and symptoms lasting more than 2 days, or if you have a new fever, severe abdominal cramping or pain, or blood in your stool.


C. difficile bacteria are found throughout the environment in air, soil, water, animal and human feces, as well as food products to include processed meats. A small number of healthy people naturally carry the bacteria in their large intestine and do not have ill effects from the infection. C. diff infection is commonly associated with health care, occurring in hospitals and other health care facilities where a larger percentage of people carry the bacteria. Studies; however, show increasing rates of community-associated C. diff infection, which happens among populations traditionally not considered to be high risk, such as children and people without a history of antibiotic use, or a recent hospitalization.

C. diff bacteria are passed in feces and spread to surfaces, food and objects when people who are infected do not wash their hands appropriately. The bacteria produce spores that may persist in a room for weeks or even months. If you touch a surface contaminated with C. difficile you might then unknowingly swallow the bacteria.

A person's intestines contain millions of bacteria, a number of which help protect their body from infection. Yet when you take an antibiotic to treat an infection, the medication may destroy some of the helpful bacteria as well as the bacteria causing the illness. Without enough healthy bacteria, C. diff can rapidly grow out of control. The antibiotics that most often lead to C. diff infections include cephalosporins, flouroquinolones, and penicillins. Once established, C. diff can produce toxins that attack the lining of the intestine. The toxins destroy cells and produce patches of inflammatory cells and decaying cellular debris inside the colon and cause watery diarrhea. It is important to be aware that an aggressive strain of C. difficile has emerged that produces far more toxins than other strains do. The new strain might be more resistant to certain medications and has appeared in people who have not been in hospitals or taken antibiotics. The strain of C. diff has caused a number of outbreaks of illness since the year 2000.

Risk Factors

While people with no known risk factors, to include children, have become ill from C. diff infections, certain factors increase a person's risk. What follows is a breakdown of the risks for C. diff infection:

In hospitals and nursing homes, C. diff spreads mainly on hands from person to person, yet also on:


A C. diff infection can present a number of complications. The complications of C. diff infections may include the following:

C. Diff Tests and Diagnosis

A doctor often times suspects C. diff in anyone with diarrhea who has recently taken antibiotics, or when diarrhea develops a few days after hospitalization. When this happens, a person is likely to have one or more of the tests below.

Toxins produced by C. difficile bacteria can usually be detected in a sample of a person's stool. Some main types of lab tests exist to include:


The first step in treating a C. diff infection is to stop taking the antibiotic that triggered it if possible. Depending upon the severity of the infection treatment may include the following:

Treating Recurrent C. Diff Infections


Study Statistics

Author Credentials:

Thomas C. Weiss is a researcher and editor for Disabled World. Thomas attended college and university courses earning a Masters, Bachelors and two Associate degrees, as well as pursing Disability Studies. As a Nursing Assistant Thomas has assisted people from a variety of racial, religious, gender, class, and age groups by providing care for people with all forms of disabilities from Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson's; para and quadriplegia to Spina Bifida.


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Cite This Page (APA): Thomas C. Weiss. (2014, September 12). Clostridium Difficile : Infection Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment. Disabled World. Retrieved December 4, 2023 from

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