Frequently Asked Questions

What is Clostridium difficile?

C. difficile is a bacterium that produces a toxin that can cause an inflammation of the intestinal tract.

What are the symptoms of C. difficile?

The usual symptoms are diarrhea,with or without fever, and abdominal pain.
How is it transmitted?

C. difficile can be part of the normal bacteria that live in the large intestine. It can also be acquired in the large intestine during hospital admission (i.e. nosocomial C. difficile). Taking certain antibiotics can change the normal balance of bacteria in your large intestine making it easier for C. difficile to grow and cause an infection.

C. difficile is most commonly spread by person-to-person contact. The microorganisms can also be spread on the hands of health-care providers and medical equipment, if not properly disinfected.

How is it detected and, as a patient or visitor, how can I help prevent C. diff infections?

If a C. difficile infection is suspected, you will be asked to give a stool (feces) sample that will be tested for the bacteria and/or its toxins. Most importantly, you and your visitors should pay particular attention to good hand washing and follow the instructions as given to you by the health-care staff.

Why are precautions needed?

Precautions are needed because surfaces like toilets and common areas that hands touch can become contaminated with the bacteria. The bacteria can survive for a long time if they are not properly cleaned. In order to prevent spread to other patients in the hospital, it will be necessary for everyone to follow these precautions.
What are these precautions?

Hand washing is the first defense against spreading any type of bacteria, including C. difficile.

If an inpatient is identified with C. difficile-associated diarrhea, they will be placed in a private room and activities outside the room may be limited. Medical care is not impacted. Hands must be washed after using the toilet or bedpan, before eating and every time a patient leaves the room. It is also very important for all staff and visitors to wash their hands when they come in and leave a room. Do not be shy about reminding everyone to wash.

For inpatients, signs may be placed outside the room to remind everyone about precautions. Staff will wear gowns and gloves. Sometimes equipment (e.g., commodes) will be left in an isolation room specifically for an infected person's use.

How is it treated?

If the C. difficile needs treatment, a doctor will order an antibiotic to be taken orally. People with mild symptoms may not need treatment.

How is the C.difficile rate for the hospital calculated?

The C. difficile infection rate is calculated as a rate per 1,000 patients days. The "total patient days" represents the sum of the number of days during which services were provided to all inpatients over the age of one, during the given time period. The rate is calculated as follows:

Number of new hospital-acquired cases of C.difficile in our facility X 1,000
Total number of patient days (for one month)