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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Clostridium difficile infection (CDI)

Pokenga clostridium difficile

Clostridium difficile (also called C. difficile) is a type of bacteria (germ) that may be in your gut (bowel) as part of your normal gut bacteria. It usually only causes an infection when it produces toxins, which results in diarrhoea and makes you feel unwell.

Symptoms include watery diarrhoea, fever, loss of appetite, nausea and stomach pain or cramp.

Healthy people usually do not get C. difficile infections. You're more prone to this infection if you're over 65, have a weakened immune system or are in hospital or a long-term care facility. This is because illness, surgery, medications and medical procedures weaken the body's defence mechanisms.

You can become infected if you touch items or surfaces that are contaminated then touch your mouth area without having washed your hands.

C. difficile infection can occur after you have antibiotics. Antibiotics alter the normal balance of bacteria in your bowel. This can allow C. difficile to increase and encourage it to make a toxin that irritates the lining of your bowel, causing diarrhoea.

Having a C. difficile infection can leave your bowel more sensitive, so tell your doctor if they are going to give you a course of antibiotics.

Diagnosing C. difficile infection

C. difficile infection is diagnosed from a poo (faeces) sample.

Treating C. difficile infection

You should rest and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. See the self-care section on the gastroenteritis page for more details.

If your diarrhoea is severe, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, such as metronidazole.

Avoiding spreading C. difficile infection

To reduce the risk of spreading the infection, it's important to have good hand hygiene. This includes washing your hands with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and before eating or drinking. Washing your hands with soap and water is better at preventing the spread of diarrhoea than using alcohol-based hand rubs. Once the diarrhoea stops, the risks of spreading are much lower.

If you're in hospital, you'll be placed in isolation to reduce the risk of spreading C. difficile infection to other patients. This means you'll be in your own room and have your own toilet.

Hospital staff caring for you may wear gloves, and gowns or aprons to prevent them carrying the bacteria to other patients.

If you're in isolation, it's important that you do not visit patients in other parts of the ward or in other wards. You may also be asked not to go into public areas.

Healthy visitors, including pregnant women can carry on visiting you in hospital as they aren't at an increased risk of infection. But your visitors must wash their hands with soap and water when they leave your room. It's unlikely that the bacteria will be transmitted if good hand hygiene is maintained.

Your family can take your laundry home and wash it as usual.

C. difficile infection will not stop you going home from hospital. You'll be discharged as soon as your general condition allows.

At home, maintain good personal hygiene and household cleaning. Good hand washing is very important. Wash your hands well after using the toilet, and before eating. Keep the bathroom and toilet clean. Clean surfaces in bathrooms, kitchens and other areas regularly with household detergents and disinfectants.

Written by Infection Prevention and Control Service, Canterbury DHB. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2022.


See also:

Diarrhoea & vomiting in adults (gastroenteritis)

Eating and drinking when you're unwell

Page reference: 57596

Review key: HIGTE-81185