What is Clostridium difficile?

C. difficile is a very common bacterium (a germ that may cause disease) that can live in the human gut. Some people have it without having any symptoms, but in others it can cause illness ranging from mild diarrhea to severe colitis (infection of the colon). In some cases, C. difficile infection results in death.

C. difficile spores (seeds that can grow into the active bacteria under the right conditions) can live outside the body for long periods of time, on all kinds of surfaces, and can be easily spread from patient to patient in hospitals and nursing homes. Therefore, hospital patients and nursing home residents are at higher risk for C. difficile infection because of the increased chance of exposure. People who are taking antibiotics are at even higher risk, because C. difficile bacteria in the gut are usually controlled by the presence of other, harmless bacteria. If those “good” bacteria are wiped out by antibiotics, the C. difficile bacteria may start to increase and produce toxins (substances made by the bacteria) that cause disease. The
C. difficile bacteria are resistant to most antibiotics.

The main source of C.diff is infected patients who release spores into the environment that can infect other patients.