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Clostridium Difficile

Clostridium difficile’ (C. diff) is a bug that can be found in the intestine of both healthy and ill people. C. diff can be harmful when found in significant numbers. When a person is healthy, the millions of good bacteria in the intestine keep the C.diffunder control.

Contact Us

Nurse Consultant
Deputy Director of Infection Prevention and Control

Moseley Hall Hospital

Telephone: 0121 466 6550 

Q&A

When antibiotics are taken, the levels of ‘good’ bacteria are reduced. If the antibiotics do not kill the C. diff, then it is possible that it will grow inside the intestine. Often inflammation of the bowel (colitis) develops causing diarrhoea which can be severe in some cases.

When there is an imbalance of bacteria in the intestine, C. diff may produce toxins that affect the lining of the bowel and give the symptoms of C. diff colitis.

The symptoms usually include diarrhoea and cramping pain; sometimes you may experience nausea.  The diarrhoea is often, watery.  Rarely, blood may be seen in the stool/faeces.

If a person has been taking, or is currently taking, antibiotics and has diarrhoea, then C. diff colitis may be suspected. Diagnosis is made by sending a sample of faeces to the laboratory for confirmation.

A person is at greatest risk of acquiring C. diff colitis infection if they are taking antibiotics. C. diff produces spores that can survive in the environment for a long period of time. It can be spread from one person to another, especially when a person has diarrhoea. To avoid spread, strict hygiene by the patient, visitors and staff is essential and attention to hand washing with soap and water is of the utmost importance. In this instance, alcohol gel alone is not effective.

Within hospital if C. diff is confirmed, if a single room is available you will be moved to it to be isolated. This is to ensure that the spread of the infection is limited. The staff will wear aprons and gloves whilst attending to you and will wash their hands before and after contact with you, your bed linen and soiled items. A commode or toilet will be allocated for your individual use.

Once the diarrhoea has settled for a minimum period of 48 hours and you have a normal bowel movement, you will no longer be considered infectious. Isolation will then cease, enabling you to go back onto the open ward.

C. diff colitis is usually treated with oral antibiotics which must be taken as prescribed. It is important that the whole course of antibiotics is completed even if the symptoms (diarrhoea and abdominal cramps) resolve. The symptoms may return.  If this happens a further course of oral antibiotics may be prescribed. It is important to drink plenty of water while you still have diarrhoea. When the diarrhoea settles this indicates that the infection has passed. No further stool testing is required once C. diff has been diagnosed. You will be issued with a credit-card-sized C. diff passport, which you should show doctors and nurses when attending healthcare facilities.

Having C. diffcolitis will not necessarily prevent you from going home. If you are being discharged to a nursing or residential home your discharge may be delayed.

Laundry should be bagged and left in the patient’s room for relatives or friends to collect as soon as possible. It can be washed in the usual way with normal detergents, on as hot a wash as possible and separate from other items. Alternatively, hospital clothing can be provided. Remember to wash hands after handling soiled linen.

You can have visitors but please seek advice from the nursing staff on the ward. All visitors will be asked to wash their hands before entering and leaving your room/bed space and to use alcohol gel on entering and leaving your ward.

For further advice on any of the issues discussed within this leaflet please ask any member of the nursing or medical staff.