Clostridioides difficile infection

Clostridioides difficile is the new name for clostridium difficile, but it is still known as ‘C. diff’. It is a bacteria that can live in the bowel.

Some healthy adults carry the bacteria without any problems. It is even more common in babies. Up to 2 out of 3 babies might have C. diff without it causing a problem.

How you get C. diff

Some antibiotics and other treatments can disturb the balance of bacteria in the bowel. This causes the bacteria to multiply and produce toxins. This can make people ill, and cause diarrhoea.

It is most common in the elderly population and people with underlying illnesses, including immunosuppression.

Symptoms of C. diff infection

The main symptom is diarrhoea. It can be mild or severe.

Other symptoms can include:

  • high temperature (fever)
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • tummy (abdomen) pain or tenderness

Sometimes it can cause severe inflammation (swelling) of the bowel. Very rarely, an untreated infection can be life-threatening.

The infection can spread from person to person. The bacteria produce spores which people get rid of in their poo (stool).

Spores can survive for a very long time in the environment. They can be transported by anyone who has had direct contact with infected patients or contaminated surfaces.

Anyone can get C. diff from contact with surfaces that are contaminated with it, such as floors, sinks, doors and toilets. This is why we ask staff, patients and visitors to observe the highest possible standards of hand hygiene at all times, and we monitor this regularly.

Who it can affect

Older people are most at risk. More than 8 out of 10 (80%) of reported cases are in people over the age of 65. People whose immune systems are weakened by illness or medical treatments (such as some antibiotics) are also at risk. This is why this infection can be a problem in hospitals.

Having several enemas (medicine that clears out your bowels) or surgery on your bowel might affect the balance of bacteria in your body, and this also increases your risk.

Although children under the age of 2 might carry the bacteria, they do not usually get a C. diff infection. Children with a weakened immune system might be at greater risk of developing infection.

C. diff does not affect healthy people.

How C. diff is diagnosed

It is difficult to diagnose C. diff infection from just symptoms. Usually a sample of your poo will be tested in a laboratory to see if you have the infection.

Treatment for C. diff

The infection can be treated with specific antibiotics. Most people with diarrhoea respond well to treatment and make a full recovery. Up to 2 out of 10 patients are at risk of C. diff coming back.

The infection might be more severe if you have other medical conditions which affect your body’s ability to fight infection. Sometimes the infection can be life-threatening, and might need surgery.

How to stop C. diff spreading

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, especially after using the toilet, and before eating.

If you have C. diff during your hospital stay, you might be placed in a side room to lower the risk of it spreading to others.

C. diff and visitors

If you have C. diff, you can have visitors, as long as they are not patients in the hospital. People who are having antibiotic treatments, or have poor immune systems, should get advice from the ward staff before visiting you. Please ask your visitors to wash their hands before and after visiting you, and to follow any advice given by the nurses. If your visitors help with your care, they will be asked to wear gloves and aprons.

Your hospital stay

If you have symptoms of C. diff, we normally want you to stay in hospital until you have been free of symptoms for 48 hours. This is to make sure you receive the best treatment for your condition.

When you have left hospital

If you have severe diarrhoea in the first couple of weeks after you leave hospital, contact your GP for advice. Tell them that you’ve had a C. diff infection. We will give you an information card or one will be sent to your GP after you have left hospital.

To reduce the risk of spreading the infection, make sure you wash your hands, especially after using the toilet and before eating. Clean your bathroom, kitchen and other surfaces regularly with household detergents or disinfectants.

More information

Read what the NHS says about C. diff

Resource number: 2011/VER3
Last reviewed: October 2023
Next review due: October 2026

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