Causes Of Clostridium Difficile Infection: Symptoms & Treatment

Clostridium difficile infection is caused by gram positive bacteria called clostridium difficile. Colonies of this bacterium normally live in human intestine without causing any health problem. However, over growth of this bacterium in the gut can cause diarrhea and colitis (inflammation of large intestine).

Frequent cause of C. difficile infection is prolonged use of antibiotics, which disturbs the normal healthy bacterial flora of the gut. People over the age of 60 are more vulnerable, especially those who are hospitalized. C.diff infection is becoming the most common hospital acquired infection in recent times.

The mainstay treatment is to discontinue all antibiotics by the patient as this alone may halt the diarrhea. However, if the symptoms persist, oral antibiotics such as metronidazole or vancomycin are prescribed by physicians.

How Do You Get Clostridium Difficile Infection?

Normally numbers of healthy individuals carry C.difficile bacteria in their large intestine. They are also present in soil, water, and animal feces. The spores released in feces can survive for 5 months in the environment. In the intestine there are millions of bacteria some of them are good bacteria which help the body from infections.

But when a person takes antibiotics for a prolonged period of time for some illness, the good bacteria are also killed along with bad bacteria.

With reduced colonies of good bacteria, C.difficile starts multiplying rapidly. Large colonies of C.difficile produce toxins in the gut which damages its lining and cause patches of inflammation and diarrhea. Infection usually develops after the use of broad spectrum antibiotics.

C.difficile bacteria can be transmitted from contaminated food, water and even from the surface. The spores of C.difficile can live in environment for 5 to 6 months. When food or water is contaminated with human or animal feces the germs can enter into the body. Hospital acquired infection is very common as the health care personnel often carry the germs unknowingly while handling patients.

Weak immune system is another cause of C.difficile infection. People with low immunity cannot resist the germs and they start multiplying in the large intestine. Elderly individuals, especially those who are suffering from chronic illnesses and hospitalized are more susceptible to it. Intestinal surgeries, history of previous C.difficile infections are other attributing factors.

Symptoms Of Clostridium Difficile Infection

Some people are asymptomatic even if C.difficile is present in their intestine. They become carriers. The infection usually occurs few days or weeks after a prolonged course of antibiotic therapy. When the infection is mild, patient may have 3 to 4 watery loose stools in a day with cramps and tenderness in abdomen.

However, in severe form of C.difficile illness, the frequency of watery diarrhea increases. Patient may pass 10 to 15 loose stools throughout the day. Loss of appetite, mild fever, blood in stool, dehydration, bloating, nausea, and weight loss are other serious symptoms.

The toxins produced by C.difficile causes pseudomembranous colitis which is characterized by inflammation of colon with bleeding and discharge of pus from the patches formed in the lining of large intestine.

Treatment Options For Clostridium Difficile Infection

If patient is taking some antibiotics when symptoms are manifested, the treating physician will recommend discontinuing the antibiotic. Within 2 to 3 days after the stoppage, symptoms will improve and diarrhea will stop. However, if the symptoms persist or worsen, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics which are effective in killing C. difficile bacteria. Usually metronidazole or vancomycin is often prescribed as they are found to be effective.

  • Natural home care measures such as adequate water intake to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalance is recommended. Reducing intake of milk products during this period often helps in controlling diarrhea.
  • Yogurt and buttermilk are natural probiotics which contain healthy bacteria. It helps to increase the colonies of good bacteria in the gut and thus maintain healthy balance of bacteria.
  • Patient as well as health care personnel must follow strict personal hygienic measures to prevent spread of C.difficile infection. Wash your hands with soap and water after bowel movement.

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