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What is Clostridium Difficile?

Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) is a bacterium that lives naturally in the gut of up to 3% of healthy adults where it rarely causes problems. However, when certain antibiotics disturb the balance of 'normal' bacteria in the gut C. difficile can cause illness. It can also be spread from person to person on the hands and spores can contaminate the environment (e.g. beds and equipment) if not correctly cleaned. 

Clostridium difficile does occur naturally in the gut of some people. When we use antibiotics, the balance of the bacteria (flora) in the gut can change which can lead to diarrhoea or severe inflammation of the bowel. There are treatments available but in some extreme cases - particularly in people over the age of 65 and poorly patients - it can sometimes be life-threatening.

One way we tackle this problem is to minimise the use of antibiotics associated with the development of Clostridium difficile diarrhoea. We also try and ensure that patients are only given antibiotics when they are absolutely necessary and for the shortest amount of time possible for their particular condition. At the hospitals we have been working hard to make sure that antibiotic drugs are prescribed according to our antibiotic prescribing policy.”

The elderly are most at risk, over 80 per cent of cases are reported in the over 65-age group. Immuno-compromised patients are also at risk. Repeated enemas and/or gut surgery increase a person's risk of developing the disease. C. difficile can be treated with specific antibiotics.

Symptoms can include diarrhoea, fever, loss of appetite, nausea and abdominal pain or tenderness. The infection is normally diagnosed by carrying out laboratory testing which shows the presence of the C. difficile toxins.


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