Our intestines are full of good bacteria. The good bacteria contribute to good health by producing vitamin K, stimulating the immune system, detoxifying chemicals that might otherwise be harmful, and by suppressing would-be pathogens like Clostridium difficile (C-diff).

Clostridium difficile (C-diff) bacterium

Clostridium difficile (C-diff) bacterium, photo credit: CDC

Antibiotics change the amount and type of good bacteria in our intestines, which in turn can let the amount of C-diff grow. C-diff infection can cause inflammation (colitis) of the colon, diarrhea, and be life-threatening.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Clostridium difficile is estimated to cause almost 500,000 illnesses in the United States each Year. At least 1 in 5 patients who have had a C-diff infection will get it at least once more.

Here at Perham Health; we are seeing a rise in C-diff infections in our clinics and emergency department.

Here’s what you need to know to help yourself and others avoid C-diff:

                                       

Antibiotic use is a risk factor for developing C-diff. When it comes to using antibiotics properly, less can be more.

  • Antibiotics are very necessary if you have a bacterial infection, but doctors must use them wisely
    • This means prescribing an antibiotic only when it’s truly necessary, choosing the simplest, most narrowly focused drug that will do the job, and stopping treatment as soon as the job is done
      • Patients can help by resisting the temptation to demand an antibiotic for every potential infection
      • This is part of antibiotic stewardship

                                       

Other risk factors for C-diff infection include:

  • Being age 65 or older
  • Recent hospitalization
  • A weakened immune system
  • Previous infection or known exposure to C-diff

                                       

Symptoms of C-diff include:

  • Diarrhea lasting for several days
  • Fever
  • Stomach tenderness or pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
    • If you have these symptoms, you should see a doctor to be tested

                                       

C-diff is a very hardy bacteria

  • It can live on surfaces for up to 5 months
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers cannot kill C-diff
  • C-diff spreads to others by contact with a contaminated object or surface
    • If someone with C-diff (or caring for someone with C-diff) doesn’t clean their hands with soap and water after using the bathroom, they can spread the germs to everything they touch.
      • This is another reason why good hand hygiene plays an important role in stopping C-diff
  • Healthcare providers will use special precautions when treating patients with C-diff, such as wearing gowns and gloves, to prevent its spread
  • To kill C-diff, use a cleaner that is 1 part bleach to 9 parts water
    • Focus on cleaning items that are touched by hands
    • Laundry of an ill person should be washed using the hottest water safe for the item, with chlorine bleach if possible, and dried in a dryer

                                       

Learn more about C-diff  from the Centers for Disease Control.