When you are admitted into the hospital for an illness, you go there expecting a diagnosis and treatment plan that helps you get back on your feet and on your way to good health. The last thing you expect is for the treatment of this illness or ailment to end up leaving you with another, potentially more serious infection. Unfortunately, this is a stark reality for over half a million people each year whose use of antibiotics in hospitals or long-term care facilities has made them susceptible to Clostridioides difficile, or an illness more commonly known as C. diff.
What is C. diff?
C. diff is a bacteria that is found in feces and can be spread through the air, the ground, in water, and even on food. While a very small percentage of the population can naturally carry this in their gut without getting sick, it is more commonly ingested after someone touches a contaminated surface and inadvertently swallows the bacteria. This can cause serious health problems if the environment in the gut is conducive for it to spread out of control, as can be the case with individuals who have just ended a round of antibiotics. While the antibiotics are killing another form of bacteria causing an individual health issues, they also can disrupt the balance of good bacteria and bad bacteria by simultaneously killing off some of the good bacteria. In this case, the C. diff can begin to overwhelm the more helpful bacteria. The C. diff then produces toxins that attack the lining of the colon, leading to a nasty infection.
While C. diff infections are most commonly found in long-term health care facilities, hospitals, and nursing homes, there have been a rising number of cases amongst healthy individuals who have neither been in hospitals or taken any antibiotics.
What are the symptoms of C. diff?
The most common symptom of C. diff is mild diarrhea. However, there are a number of other symptoms associated with C. diff, some of which can prove to be life-threatening:
- Watery diarrhea over 10 times a day
- Moderate to severe abdominal cramping and pain
- Rapid heart rate
- Blood or pus in the stool
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Swollen abdomen
- Kidney failure
- Increased white blood cell count
If you experience these symptoms during or after you finish your antibiotics, schedule a visit today with one of our physicians. Don’t delay, as these symptoms can turn into more serious conditions without acquiring the proper care.
How Do I Treat C. diff?
C. diff is a very treatable infection. Ironically, it is treated in the same way that it leads to one contracting the infection - with antibiotics. Oftentimes, a doctor will be able to prescribe a different type of antibiotic that will neutralize the C. diff bacteria and allow the patient to heal. In more serious cases, the infected patient may need to stay in the hospital for more advanced treatment. Most cases of C. diff are able to be treated successfully and the patient returns to full health within 14 days. Unfortunately, 1 in 6 people who are treated for C. diff will contract it again within 2 to 8 weeks after they got it the first time. When this happens, the patient is administered another round of antibiotics until the infection is gone.
Can I Prevent C. diff?
While C. diff does not lead to severe complications in most cases, it is not an infection to take lightly. There are some preventative measures that can help keep one from contracting the infection. If you’re around or have been around someone who has been sick with C. diff, make sure you wash your hands with soap and warm water - early and often. Clean all surfaces - toilets, sinks, counters, etc. - with a bleach solution, as C. diff bacteria and spores are not killed by alcohol based cleaners. Also, only take antibiotics if you truly need them. There’s no point in taking the risk of contracting the infection unnecessarily.
If you want more information about C. diff, take a few minutes and watch this helpful video, "Understanding C. diff Infection". If you have any further questions about C. diff or feel like you may have contracted it, please book an appointment today!