Arm Yourself with Knowledge in the Fight Against Infection
If you have an infant or a family member who is immunocompromised or elderly, you may have heard doctors’ warnings about C. diff infection.
But what is C. diff? How does someone get it? And why is it such a difficult infection to beat?
Clostridium difficile, known as C. diff for short, is a dangerous bacterial infection. It can lead to some extremely uncomfortable and potentially dangerous symptoms and, unfortunately, it’s also very expensive to treat.
Here’s what you need to know to recognize C. diff right away and protect your family in and out of the home.
What is Clostridium difficile or C. diff?
Clostridium difficile is a harmful opportunistic bacteria that can cause inflammation of the colon, known as colitis. C. diff is so problematic because it’s extremely pervasive. The bacteria can be found in the environment, our food, water, and intestinal tracts naturally.
You may have C. diff bacteria but not show symptoms. This is called asymptomatic carriage or colonization and is the most common. Asymptomatic carriage is usually no cause for concern. However, you may still pose a risk to yourself and susceptible family members.
An active infection occurs when a patient is experiencing symptoms of C. diff colitis.
Battle of the Bacteria
As humans, we all have good bacteria and bad bacteria in our bodies. Normally, Clostridium difficile bacteria that live in our bodies are kept in check by the good bacteria. However, if a person takes antibiotics, the treatment can wipe out his or her good bacteria. In such a case, the bad C. diff bacteria can take advantage of this opportunity and cause harmful symptoms.
Older individuals (typically over the age of 65), individuals with weakened immune systems, and those who are taking antibiotics are most at risk for developing C. diff colitis.
Cancer patients who are going through cancer treatment are also at increased risk due to the treatment’s effect on the immune system. Also, patients who are suffering from colorectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease may be more vulnerable.
When Clostridium difficile leaves the body, it forms a spore. In this state, it is very difficult to kill. If infected, a patient can emit millions of spores into the environment. When someone who is susceptible to infection ingests the spore, he or she can contract C. diff and may or may not show symptoms.
According to the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, hand hygiene is the most common infection control measure to prevent the spread of C. diff. Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water can help remove the spores from your skin.
Standard household disinfectants, with the exception of bleach, cannot kill C. diff spores. While bleach can be effective in killing C. diff, it can also be hard on your respiratory system, your skin, and many household surfaces. This makes eliminating spores in the environment a seemingly impossible task for the home environment.
Individuals suffering from C. diff infection experience symptoms including:
- Severe diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Pain or tenderness in the belly
- Rapid heart rate
- Severe abdominal cramps
- Unintended weight loss
Symptoms can range from mild to severe. In extreme cases, portions of the bowel can become nonfunctional or necrotic, meaning that the cells have died.
Treating C. diff
If you suspect you have a Clostridium difficile infection seek the advice of your physician immediately. Treatment for C. diff may include antibiotics and/or resection of the colon. Some cases of C. diff infection are very mild and require a simple, temporary lifestyle change such as medication adjustments or adding probiotics.
For moderate cases, a doctor may prescribe a stronger antibiotic or multiple antibiotics to combat Clostridium difficile specifically.
Although it may seem gross to think about, fecal transplantation (FMT) is another treatment option your doctor may consider. And yes, it’s exactly as it sounds.
Studies have shown tremendous results using FMT with up to a 90% cure rate when antibiotics have failed. If transplanted poop is too icky to think about, there’s also a poop-pill treatment on the horizon. While researchers are still studying the poop-pill in the U.S., the method has shown similar results to FMT in studies in Canada.
For the most severe cases, a patient can experience cell death or immobility in the bowels, also known as toxic megacolon. In this case, he or she may require surgery to remove the affected tissue. If you or someone you love is suffering from a Clostridium difficile infection, discuss your treatment options with your doctor and be sure to follow your doctor’s prescription regimen precisely.
Preventing C. diff
Because Clostridium difficile is an opportunistic bacteria, it’s easy to spread from an infected person to a susceptible person. If you have C. diff or if you are susceptible to infection, you can help keep your healthcare workers, family members, and visitors accountable by reminding them to wash their hands when they enter and leave your room.
While this may sound excessive, it’s the best way to prevent transmission of C. diff to others who are susceptible. Patients and family members should wash their hands frequently with soap and water, in addition to using gloves and gowns. Alcohol-based hand rubs aren’t effective in killing C. diff.
Clothing and bedding are also common modes of transmission and ones that are easily missed. Healthcare workers, family members, and visitors must wear gloves and a gown when caring for or visiting someone with C. diff. Visitors must dispose of all safety articles properly when they leave.
Another challenge in fighting Clostridium difficile is disinfecting the tools used on a regular basis. Though most C. diff patient rooms will get dedicated equipment in order to reduce the spread of the illness, it’s challenging to disinfect equipment such as IV poles and mobile carts entirely due to the difficulty of cleaning these common and oddly-shaped items.
Individuals contract C. diff through fecal-oral transmission. To be safe, you should consider all areas in and around a patient’s living and sleeping area, as well as all of their paths of movement, as contaminated with C. diff spores.
To disinfect these areas, use an approved sporicidal with a microfiber cloth. Microfiber is a man-made fiber that traps bacteria when wiping and releases bacteria when washed. Be sure to disinfect door handles, fixtures, and light switches, which busy homeowners and care-takers often overlook when disinfecting at home.
If all this sounds overwhelming, we understand. Clostridium difficile infections are among the hardest to prevent because the bacteria is so easily spread to susceptible individuals and it’s extremely challenging to stay on top of all the disinfecting necessary to completely wipe out the problem.
If you need help combatting C. diff, let us help you put an end to the cycle of infection after infection.
Also, if you or someone you care for is experiencing symptoms of Clostridium difficile infection, talk to a doctor right away. Infection control and prevention are possible if we all work together to stop the spread of harmful bacteria.