FAQ: Clostridium difficile
» What is Clostridium
Clostridium bacteria are rod-shaped spore-forming
bacteria that live under anaerobic conditions. Clostridium
difficile was first discovered in 1935 and first associated
with disease in 1978. C. difficile is an opportunistic
pathogen which causes Clostridium difficile-associated
diarrhea (CDAD). Common environmental reservoirs include soil,
water, hay, and sand.
From a healthcare standpoint, the most common reservoir
is within the intestines of infected individuals or carriers.
According to Health Canada, approximately 2-3% of adults are asymptomatic
carriers and approximately 50% of healthy newborns become carriers
in less than a year.
» Can C. difficile
- About 1-3% of all people carry C. difficile
in their stool without having any symptoms.
- Sometimes after a person has been given
an antibiotic for another infection, the C. difficile
will over grow and produce enough toxin to cause illness.
- Symptoms of C. difficile associated
disease (CDAD) can include: diarrhea or loose stools, fever,
abdominal pain and abdominal cramps.
- In some cases diarrhea may be mild, and
the patient will improve without the need for treatment. However,
it can sometimes be a more serious illness.
- In serious cases of CDAD, stool may contain
blood and mucus.
» How is C. difficile
- C. difficile is spread by contact with the hands.
Caregivers can unknowingly spread the germ during routine procedures
- C. difficile can also be spread through contaminated
surfaces, objects, or equipment such as: bedrails, thermometers,
toilet seats, wheelchairs, and commodes.
- C.difficile is shed in feces. Any surfaces, patient
equipment, and personal items that become contaminated can become
sources of infection.
» Who is at risk?
- People who have multiple hospital stays or are from nursing
- People who are taking antibiotics
- People who have had gastrointestinal tract surgery
» What precautions can
be taken to prevent the spread of C. difficile?
- Patients with C. difficile should be isolated in
- It is very important for all staff and visitors to wash their
hands when they enter and leave the patient room.
- Visitors and hospital staff coming into the patient room will
need to wear gloves and yellow gowns to prevent them from picking
up C. difficile and spreading it to other patients
or the environment.
- Patients must wash their hands before they go to another part
of the hospital for tests or treatments. Staff transferring
the patient and helping with the tests also need to wear gowns
and gloves, and wash their hands carefully.
- Because C. difficile lives on objects in the room,
patients with C.difficle should have their rooms cleaned
» Are family and visitors
allowed to visit a patient with C. difficile?
- Yes. Visitors mush wash their hands when they enter and leave
the patient room. They must also put on yellow gowns and gloves
when they enter the room.
- If any visitors are experiencing diarrhea, they should not
visit the patient until they are better. Infection Control should
also be notified of this immediately.
» How is C. difficile
associated disease (CDAD) treated?
- C. difficile can be treated with special antibiotics.
Patients will get better. Occasionally, the diarrhea can come
back. If this happens, patients will need to be treated again.
- Once it is certain that the diarrhea will not reoccur, the
C. difficile precautions will be stopped.
» Is Clostridium
difficile an increasing problem?
- The increase in incidence and severity of Clostridium
difficile associated disease has been documented in US
and UK surveillance systems.
- In Canada, the number of cases and deaths associated with
C.difficile has also been increasing.
- Nosocomial transmission in Canada has increased from 2.1 cases
per 1000 admissions in 2002 to 10 per 1000 in 2003. It is estimated
that nosocomial transmission can increase to 18 cases per 1000
» Where can I find more
information about C. difficile?
This website has been made possible through an unrestricted educational grant from
Pfizer Canada Inc.