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Frequently Asked Questions
What can the public do to help?
What is C. difficile?
Clostridium difficile, also known as C. diff, C. difficile, is a spore forming bacteria that normally grows in the human gastrointestinal tract. It is a major cause of inflammation of the colon. The disease is characterized by severe symptoms of acute, watery, foul-smelling diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever and sometimes blood and mucous in stool. It is generally caused by an overuse of antibiotics, but can also be transmitted through fecal-oral contact.
C. difficile has been around for years in North America, Japan, and Europe. About one to three per cent of people carry it without any symptoms.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of C. difficile include:
  • watery diarrhea, sometimes with blood, mucus or pus;
  • abdominal pain, tenderness and cramping; and/or
  • fever


How is C. difficile diagnosed?
If a patient is experiencing symptoms, a doctor will request that a stool sample be taken and sent to the laboratory for C. difficile testing.

Are certain people more at risk of getting C. difficile?
The following people are more at risk of contracting C. difficile:

  • Anyone taking multiple antibiotics;
  • Patients who have prolonged hospital stays;
  • Patients who are seriously ill;
  • People who are immunosuppressed; and
  • Elderly people.


What is the treatment for patients with C. difficile?
  • Routine antibiotics should be stopped if possible.
  • Special antibiotics will be prescribed.
  • Patients must take these special antibiotics as prescribed until they are finished, even if the diarrhea stops.
  • If the diarrhea does not stop or comes back, the patient should see a doctor.
  • Patients should not take anti-diarrheal medications. The toxins must be excreted to prevent more severe damage to the bowel


How is C. difficile spread?

  • C. difficile is shed in stool. The germ survives on surfaces and objects for a long time.
  • C. difficile can be spread on the soiled hands of caregivers.
  • Any surfaces, patient equipment, and personal items that come in contact with stool can be a source of infection.


How can we stop the spread of C. difficile?
  • Special precautions will be taken to stop the spread of C. difficile in the hospital.
  • Patients will be placed on Contact Precautions, meaning that anyone entering the room is required to wear Personal Protective Equipment.
  • A sign will be posted to alert those who need to enter the room.
  • The patient will need to stay in his/her room.
  • All patients must wash their hands carefully after using the bathroom.
  • All patients must always wash their hands if they have to leave their rooms.
  • Staff will wear gown/gloves when providing direct care.
  • All staff and visitors must wash their hands when they enter or leave a hospital room.
  • Items brought into the hospital room of a patient with C. difficile must stay in the room. Such items include: equipment (commodes, wheelchairs, walkers, etc.) chairs and food.
  • C. difficile can live on objects in the room so it is important to properly clean items before they are taken out of the room.


Can C. difficile be transmitted to family and visitors?
Yes, but the risk is low for healthy people who are not taking antibiotics. The best protection against C. difficile is proper handwashing before and after visiting any patient in hospital.

What can the public do to help?
Special care should be paid to handwashing, as it is the best way to prevent the spread of germs. Good handwashing includes these steps:
  • Use warm running water and soap.
  • Spend at least 10 seconds lathering and washing hands.
  • Rub hands together, paying attention to finger tips, around rings and thumbs.
  • Rinse thoroughly. Dry with paper towel and turn off tap with paper towel.


When will special precautions be discontinued?
Special precautions may be discontinued when a patient has been without symptoms for at least 48 hours.


Updated Mar 18, 2013