Clostridium difficile (C. diff)

Clostridium difficile (C. diff) is a bacterium (germ). It lives harmlessly in the gut of about 3 in 100 healthy adults. The number of C. diff  bacteria that live in the gut of healthy people is kept in check by all the other harmless bacteria that also live in the gut. So, in other words, some of us normally have small numbers of C. diff bacteria living in our guts, which do no harm. However, if the number of C. diff bacteria increases greatly in the gut, then it can cause problems. The most common reason why this occurs is due to taking antibiotics or debilitating illness.

Diarrhea is the most common symptom of C. diff. This is often associated with antibiotic use.  However, you should remember that diarrhoea is often due to other causes; for example, food poisoning or viral infections. Also, diarrhoea after a course of antibiotics may not necessarily be due to C. diff infection. For example, some antibiotics such as erythromycin can cause diarrhoea as a side-effect because the antibiotic medicine speeds up stomach emptying. Also, because antibiotics can upset the balance of the harmless bacteria in the gut that normally help to control our bowel movements, diarrhoea after a course of antibiotics can also occur for this reason.

The decision to treat C. diff infection, and the type of treatment, depends on the severity of the illness. No treatment is needed if you have no symptoms but are known to carry the bacteria in your gut. However, if symptoms develop, some treatments such as stopping any antibiotics being prescribed and starting a different antibiotic may be needed. If you are not already in hospital, people who have mild infection can often be treated at home. However, if the infection is more severe, you will usually be admitted to hospital so that you can be treated and closely monitored.

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