Understanding C. diff Infections

November 30, 2017

Chanda Newsome, RN

Did you know that nearly half of all antibiotics prescribed to patients are not needed? When you take an antibiotic that you do not need or that is too strong for the infection being treated, antibiotic resistance occurs. This means the bacteria can learn how to stop the medication from killing them. Thus, you could become susceptible to an infection that are resistant to antibiotics, which happens to at least 2 million people in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, is a type of bacteria that can be found in our intestines. C. diff infections are generally caused by antibiotic use and spread by cross contamination. Some antibiotics, a necessity in healthcare, can cause a C. diff infection. However, an antibiotic is not needed for every illness.  When taking antibiotics, remember to 1. Never take antibiotics not prescribed to you by your provider; 2. If you are prescribed an antibiotic, take it as prescribed and; 3. Report any side effects to your provider immediately.

People can be “carriers” of C. diff without becoming ill.  Others who are less fortunate get what is called a c. diff infection where they can have anything from a mild reaction to becoming extremely ill. C. diff is becoming increasingly prevalent and we must ask ourselves “Am I at risk for a C. diff infection”? The answer is a resounding YES! 

C. diff bacteria can live outside of the body on inanimate objects and clothing for long periods of time.  Cross contamination occurs when you touch an object that is contaminated with the C. diff bacteria and then introduce the bacteria into your body by touching your face or mouth. You can then either become a carrier or become infected with the C. diff bacteria.      

The most common symptoms of a C. diff infection are nausea, diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain. Understanding that these symptoms can be attributed to many other illnesses, you need to inform your provider if you have taken antibiotics within the last 30 days or you have come into contact with someone who has a C. diff infection or a C. diff-like illness.   

Wilson Medical Center utilizes a bundled approach to help stop the spread of C. diff. These best practice interventions include:

  • Early identification of cases
  • Proper hand hygiene
  • Isolation precautions
  • Proper environmental disinfection
  • Appropriate use of antibiotics

If you or someone you know has a C. diff infection, proper hand hygiene and cleaning of inanimate objects are vital to stopping the spread of C. diff.  The C. diff bacteria has its own armor that is not affected by alcohol based hand gels and foams or basic household cleaners.  Hands must be vigorously washed with soap and water after each trip to the bathroom and before eating to rid your hands of the C. diff bacteria.  Bleach-based cleaners are necessary to rid inanimate objects of the bacteria, especially bathroom fixtures.    

And always remember, if you are a patient in the hospital, do not be afraid to ask your provider – doctor, nurses and other healthcare staff – if they have cleaned their hands. This is the most important measure to help prevent the spread of C. diff and all other infections.

For more information on C. diff infections, visit the CDC website at cdc.gov.

Chanda Newsome, RN, is the Infection Prevention and Control Coordinator at Wilson Medical Center.