Clostridium difficile, is often called C. difficile or C. diff. There is reason to be concerned about this infection because it tends to hit older adults or those who are already ill particularly hard.
A new strain of the bacteria was found in 2000 and this new C. difficile is aggressive and difficult to eliminate. According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), C. difficile is linked to the deaths of 14,000 Americans each year. Many cases of this infection are contracted by patients who are in hospitals or other healthcare facilities. C. difficile is one of the most common healthcare acquired infections (HAIs).
The bacteria is spread by microscopic spores. If someone has the spores on their hand, they may touch a table, doorknob, food tray, or bedside rails and the spores will stay on those surfaces. C. difficile spores can live for quite a while on surfaces like this. Someone else may come along and touch those contaminated surfaces and pick up the spores. This person then touches an elevator button, a bed cover, and so on, leaving spores for other people to pick up.
Not everyone who picks up a spore becomes ill though. It mostly affects elderly people and those who are taking antibiotics of other types of infections.
The danger of C. difficile is in how it works in the body. The bacteria produce toxins that attack the intestine’s lining, destroying the healthy cells. This causes severe diarrhea.
The symptoms of a C. difficile infection include:
watery and odorous diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, cramping, abdominal and pain.If the infection becomes severe, there may also be: weight loss, and dehydration.
C. difficile infections can be difficult to treat. They require specific antibiotics, which can have strong side effects, such as nausea. In patients where antibiotics do not work, surgery may be needed to remove the diseased part of the intestine. According to the CDC, one or two out of every 100 people with C. difficile infection may need surgery. Researchers are working on other treatments in the hopes of clearing this potentially fatal infection.
It is possible to prevent C. difficile contamination, but it involves frequent, proper and thorough hand washing for you, any visitors, and any hospital worker, from the doctors and nurses to the housekeepers, with whom you come in contact. Always make sure who ever touches you washes their hands. It is your responsibility to ask if you do not see someone washing their hands.
Patients who have C. difficile infections should be kept isolated from other patients to prevent its spread. Antibiotics should only be taken when necessary. This infection often strikes people who are taking antibiotics for another infection. Do not take antibiotics if they are not prescribed for you. Do not push for antibiotics for a viral infection – they are not effective against viruses. If you do take antibiotics, it is vital that you take them as ordered and for as long as they are ordered.
Not everyone who has a C. difficile infection is in the hospital. Some are at home. If this is your situation, you will need to take certain precautions to prevent the bacteria from spreading. This means: washing your hands often, especially every time you use the bathroom or touch food. Anyone in your home should wash their hands frequently even if they just went into the bathroom to pick up a towel or brush their hair. Take your medications, if prescribed, exactly as you were told. If you have any questions about the medications, ask your pharmacist. Report any increase in diarrhea to your healthcare provider.