What Is C. diff?

C. diff is an infection caused by Clostridium difficile (C. diff) bacteria. These are germs that live in the part of your belly called your colon, or large intestine. They don't usually cause problems, but if the normal balance of good and bad bacteria in your colon changes, C. diff bacteria can grow out of control and lead to infection. This can harm your colon and cause diarrhea and belly pain.

What are the symptoms of C. diff?

Some people with C. diff have no symptoms, but they can still pass the infection to others. Symptoms can include:

  • Watery diarrhea

  • Fever

  • Belly pain and cramping

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Loss of appetite and weight loss 

Who is most likely to get C. diff?

Anyone can get C. diff. But you are more likely to get the infection if you:

  • Are ages 65 and older

  • Are taking antibiotics

  • Have a weak immune system because of other health problems

  • Have inflammatory bowel disease

  • Have had C. diff before

  • Have had gastrointestinal (GI) surgery

  • Work or are a patient in a hospital, clinic, or nursing home

After treatment, C. diff can come back in about 1 in 4 people. If C. diff does come back, you are at higher risk for infection again in the future.

How can I lower my chance of getting C. diff again?

Take antibiotics only when you really need them. Antibiotics don't help treat illnesses caused by viruses, such as colds and the flu. Don't ask for antibiotics from your doctor if he or she says they won't work.

When you are given antibiotics, take them exactly as your doctor tells you to. Don't take more or less than the amount prescribed (the dosage). Also don't take them for a shorter or longer time than your doctor tells you to, even if you feel better.

How can I stop the spread of C. diff?

C. diff can easily spread to other people in your home or workplace. The germs can remain on your hands after using the bathroom, then spread to any person, surface, or object you touch. Here's how to not spread C. diff to other people:

  • Practice good handwashing. This is especially important after using the bathroom and before eating. Here's what to do: Wet your hands, scrub them with soap for 30 to 40 seconds, then rinse well and dry.

  • Wash your clothes, bed sheets, and towels in separate loads. Use hot water. Use both detergent and chlorine bleach. 

  • Use chlorine bleach-based products to disinfect surfaces you touch often, such as table tops, light switches, door knobs, and toilet seats.

  • Remind others to wear gloves and to wash their hands if assisting you in the bathroom.

Don't use alcohol-based hand cleaners. They don't work against C. diff.