What is C. diff?

C. diff (also known as Clostridioides difficile or C. difficile) is a germ (bacterium) that causes severe diarrhea and colitis (an inflammation of the colon).

It’s estimated to cause almost half a million infections in the United States each year.

About 1 in 6 patients who get C. diff will get it again in the subsequent 2-8 weeks.

One in 11 people over age 65 diagnosed with a healthcare-associated C. diff infection die within one month.

Risk Factors for C. diff
antibiotics pill and girl - icon

C. diff can affect anyone. Most cases of C. diff occur when you’ve been taking antibiotics or not long after you’ve finished taking antibiotics.

There are other risk factors:

  • Being 65 or older
  • Recent stay at a hospital or nursing home
  • A weakened immune system, such as people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or organ transplant patients taking immunosuppressive drugs
  • Previous infection with C. diff or known exposure to the germs
Symptoms of C. diff
C. diff diarrhea

Symptoms might develop within a few days after you begin taking antibiotics.

  • Severe diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Stomach tenderness or pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
What if I have symptoms?
c. diff doctor

If you have been taking antibiotics recently and have symptoms of C. diff, you should see a healthcare professional.

  • Developing diarrhea is fairly common while on, or after taking, antibiotics, but in only a few cases will that diarrhea be caused by C. diff. If your diarrhea is severe, do not delay getting medical care.
  • Your healthcare professional will review your symptoms and order a lab test of a stool (poop) sample.
  • If the test is positive, you’ll take a specific antibiotic (e.g. vancomycin or fidaxomicin) for at least 10 days. If you were already taking an antibiotic for another infection, your healthcare professional might ask you to stop taking it if they think it’s safe to do so.
  • Your healthcare team might decide to admit you to the hospital, in which case they will use certain precautions, such as wearing gowns and gloves, to prevent the spread of C. diff to themselves and to other patients.
Is C. diff contagious?
wash hands

Yes. To keep from spreading C. diff to others:

  • Wash hands with soap and water every time you use the bathroom and always before you eat.
  • Try to use a separate bathroom if you have diarrhea.
  • Take showers and wash with soap.
Can I get C. diff again?
C. diff reinfected again

Some people get C. diff over and over again.

  • One in 6 people who’ve had C. diff will get it again in the subsequent 2-8 weeks.
  • If you start having symptoms again, seek medical care.
  • For those with repeat infections, innovative treatments, including fecal microbiota transplants, have shown promising results (see the “Life After C. diff page).