C. Diff Infection

A highly contagious bacteria that usually provokes colitis and diarrhea is called C. diff or Clostridioides difficile. People who recently used antibiotics usually experience this bacteria because these medicines kill some bacteria in the gut. To treat this infection you have to administer any other antibiotics.

What is C. diff?

This is a bacteria that commonly infects your large intestine (colon), which leads to diarrhea and other symptoms. While bacterial infections are common in the colon, roughly all of them are not serious. C. diff is an infection that could be more harmful and aggressive to the colon. In addition, it also can cause severe colitis (pseudomembranous colitis).

Furthermore, a lot of people have this bacteria but without infection due to other bacteria in the intestines. It means without other bacteria C. diff may quickly grow out of control. Usually, it happens when people use antibiotics that kill all helpful bacteria, which triggers C. diff infection.

This bacteria releases toxins (poisons) in your intestines that damage your gut lining. This effect leads to inflammation of the intestinal lining also known as colitis. The damage can be from mild to severe, depending on how much those toxins damage your gut lining. Moreover, in severe cases, this infection can be life-threatening.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of mild C. diff infection are abdominal tenderness or cramping and watery diarrhea. It usually provokes diarrhea about 3 times per day. However, if you experience severe infection, you may notice more severe diarrhea which occurs approximately 10-15 times daily. Check below for other C. diff infection symptoms:

  • Blood in your poop (stool)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Swollen and distended abdomen
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fast heart rate
  • Fever

In some circumstances, symptoms may be similar to food poisoning or stomach flu but these symptoms do not go away so easily. Moreover, it is possible to mistake C. diff because of other medicines that diarrhea is a normal side effect. Additionally, some people may experience this infection without diarrhea because they are using some medicines that prevent diarrhea.

How Does a Person Get C. diff?

You can have this bacteria even at birth or get it by ingesting it. This bacteria lives in the human and other animals’ intestines and usually spreads through their stool into the environment.

According to research, roughly 5% of the population have C. diff in their intestines but without any symptoms of infection. Unfortunately, you can have this bacteria and do not notice any symptoms but you can spread it to others.

This bacteria multiplies by releasing spores that live usually in the environment. A person can get this bacteria through the mouth. It is quite hard to kill these bacteria spores either inside or outside the gut because it is resistant to heat, acid, different antibiotics, and disinfectants. Additionally, C. diff can survive on surfaces for months.

Causes

In case you have a healthy body’s defense (immune system), it often protects you from this bacterial infection. However, this bacteria begins to grow out of control, when something has compromised your intestinal immunity. Check below the most common cause of infection:

  • Antibiotics – People experience C. diff infection after a treatment with antibiotics. Approximately all antibiotics are meant to target a wide range of bacteria but are not effective against C. diff. Therefore, other bacteria in your gut help to keep under control C. diff but the medicines kill bad as well as good bacteria. As a result, C. diff can dominate and diminish other bacteria causing an infection.

Some health conditions that could also provoke C. diff infection. For example:

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) – Your gut immunity may be also affected by certain health conditions such as chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis).
  • Immunodepression – You may experience an immunodeficiency disorder if your body’s defense is decreased, not necessarily in your gut only. Your immune system also can impact other chronic health conditions including kidney disease, diabetes, HIV infection, cancer, and others.

Check below other risk factors that can cause C. diff infection:

  • Age – C. diff infection is commonly diagnosed in people over 65 years old and in infants. In both cases, it occurs due to a decreased immune system (caused by medicines, living in a hospital, or care home). In infants, the body’s defense system is still developing. That’s why they get this infection more often.
  • Hospitalization or Institutionalization – Nursing homes and hospitals are locations where C. diff can spread easily. About 20% of people get infected in such places because this bacteria can live on surfaces for months and caregivers can carry this bacteria on their hands and transmit it to other people.

Complications

Usually, the complications that happen depend on how severe the infection is, the strain of the bacteria, and your immune system (body’s defense). Check below some common complications:

  • Pseudomembranous Colitis – It usually occurs due to poisons that C. diff produces and releases in your gut. These poisons destroy the intestinal lining which leads to a strong inflammatory response. Bleeding ulcers may appear in your colon in such cases.
  • Dehydration and Electrolyte Losses – Frequent diarrhea may start to lose fluids and electrolytes more quickly than you can replace them. Low blood volume, hypotension, and kidney failure (severe cases) may occur as side effects.
  • Recurrent Infection – One of the most common complications is recurrent infection, which impacts approximately 20% of people.

If the damage to your colon progresses, the following complications may happen. Examples include:

  • Toxic Megacolon – While it is a very rare complication it is quite serious. Inflammation and swelling of the colon that disables it are experienced by people with this complication. Not treating it may lead to sepsis and septic shock, which can be fatal.
  • Reactive Arthritis – Swelling and inflammation of the joints may occur while experiencing this complication.
  • Fluid Leakage – Swelling of the abdominal can happen due to fluid leakage from the colon.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask you about symptoms and medical history. Additionally, your physician may order you to do some tests to confirm you have C. diff. For example, blood tests, a sample of your poop (stool), and imaging tests are used to determine whether you have C. diff or not and how severe it is.

Treatment

The treatment often is based on the symptoms, the severity of the condition, other existing health conditions, using of antibiotics, and others.

In some cases, interrupting the use of antibiotics that provoke C. diff is enough to restore natural gut immunity. However, if you do not notice any improvements, your physician may prescribe any of the following medications. For example:

  • Vancomycin
  • Fidaxomicin
  • Metronidazole

In mild cases, you can take your prescription medicines at home but in severe cases, you may need to stay in a hospital for a time. Additionally, doctors may give you antibiotics along with IV fluids that help to prevent dehydration.

Check below some treatments that are prescribed by doctors if you have a complicated C. diff infection:

  • Fecal Microbiota Transplant – This procedure is used when antibiotics are not effective for you. This procedure is highly effective in preventing recurrent C. diff infection. Fecal transplantation involves the transfer of a medically processed stool sample from a healthy donor into an infected colon.
  • Repeat Antibiotic Therapy – In some complicated cases, doctors may adjust the dosage or even change the medicine. They can also prescribe using of antibiotics for a longer time. Usually, after long-term treatment with antibiotics, physicians recommend administering probiotics because they help to restore intestinal bacteria.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to prevent the spreading of C. diff?

Yes, check the following tips that will help to prevent the spreading of this bacteria:

  • Limiting Antibiotics – Limit or avoid long-term treatments with antibiotics because this is one of the most common causes of C. diff infection.
  • Disinfection – Disinfect any surfaces you have touched with chlorine-based solutions.
  • Handwashing – If you frequently interact with other people, it is recommended to wash your hands with soap and warm water.
  • Isolation – If you were diagnosed with this infection, you should stay isolated. Otherwise, the bacteria can pass to other people that you interact with.

In case you have any questions, ask your healthcare provider.

How common is C. diff infection?

This is considered a big concern worldwide because it affects about 500,000 people in the U.S. with 15,000 deaths every year.

Is Clostridioides difficile and Clostridium difficile the same thing?

Clostridium difficile is the new name of Clostridioides difficile.

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