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revised June 03, 2011

Arrow BulletC. difficile (Clostridium Difficile)

What is Clostridium Difficile (C. difficile)?

  • C. difficile is a bacterium that causes diarrhea and more serious intestinal conditions such as colitis. It is a common infection in hospitals and long-term care homes.
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What is C. difficile disease?

  • C. difficile disease occurs when antibiotics kill a person's good bowel bacteria and allow the C. difficile to grow. When C. difficile grows, it produces a toxin (poison) that can damage the lining of the bowel and may cause diarrhea. C. difficile disease is usually mild but sometimes can be severe. In extreme cases, C. difficile may cause death.
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What are the symptoms of C. difficile disease?

  • The main symptoms of C. difficile disease are: watery diarrhea fever abdominal pain or tenderness
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Who is at risk?

  • The risk of C. difficile to the general public is low. People in good health do not usually get C. difficile disease. Risk factors include: old age prolonged hospitalization a history of recent antibiotic use, and overall poor health.
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How do people get C. difficile?

  • C. difficile is infectious. People can become ill if they touch contaminated surfaces such as toilets, handles, bedpans, and other items and then touch their mouth or mucous membranes. 
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How can C. difficile be prevented?

  • The best way to prevent spread of this infection is to wash your hands frequently, especially after contact with a surface that may be contaminated. Wash your hands: before handling or eating food after using the toilet after sneezing or wiping your nose whenever hands are dirty.
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How is C. difficile treated?

  • For people with mild symptoms, no treatment is required. The symptoms usually clear up once the patient stops using antibiotics. For severe cases, medication and/or surgery may be required.

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What do hospitals and other health-care settings do to prevent and control C. difficile?

  • Hospitals and other health-care settings should follow strict precautions to minimize the spread of C. difficile. They include: frequent handwashing with soap and water using contact precautions such as wearing gowns, gloves and safety glasses, isolating patients who are ill, and cleaning surfaces thoroughly.

    If you are visiting a hospital, follow infection prevention guidelines for visitors.
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Where can I get more information?

  • Ministry of Health and Long Term Care C. difficile information for the public
  • For more information, call Peel Public Health at 905-799-7700.
This fact sheet is based on information from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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Revised: June 03, 2011


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