Myth or Medicine
Second Opinion 5
People who have other illnesses or conditions requiring prolonged use of antibiotics, and the elderly, are at greater risk of acquiring this disease. The bacteria are found in the feces. People can become infected if they touch items or surfaces that are contaminated with feces and then touch their mouth or mucous membranes. Healthcare workers can spread the bacteria to patients or contaminate surfaces through hand contact.
Symptoms of C. difficile
- Watery diarrhea (at least three bowel movements per day for two or more days)
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain/tenderness
Transmission of C. difficile
Clostridium difficile is shed in feces. Any surface, device, or material (e.g., toilets, bathing tubs, and electronic rectal thermometers) that becomes contaminated with feces may serve as a reservoir for the Clostridium difficile spores. Clostridium difficile spores are transferred to patients mainly via the hands of healthcare personnel who have touched a contaminated surface or item. Clostridium difficile can live for long periods on surfaces.
Treatment of C. difficile
In about one in four patients, Clostridium difficile infection will resolve within 2-3 days of discontinuing the antibiotic to which the patient was previously exposed. Clostridium difficile is generally treated for 10 days with antibiotics prescribed by your healthcare provider. The drugs are effective and appear to have few side-effects.
Take antibiotics only as prescribed by your doctor. Antibiotics can be life-saving medicines. When a person takes antibiotics, good germs that protect against infection are destroyed for several months. During this time, patients can get sick from C. difficile picked up from contaminated surfaces or spread from a health care provider’s hands. Those most at risk are people, especially older adults, who take antibiotics and also get medical care.
Prevention of C. difficile
To help prevent the spread of C. difficile, hospitals and other health care facilities follow strict infection-control guidelines. If you have a friend or family member in a hospital or nursing home, don't be afraid to remind caregivers to follow the recommended precautions.
Preventive measures include:
- Hand-washing. Health care workers should practice good hand hygiene before and after treating each person in their care. In the event of a C. difficile outbreak, using soap and warm water is a better choice for hand hygiene, because alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not effectively destroy C. difficile spores. Visitors also should wash their hands with soap and warm water before and after leaving the room or using the bathroom.
- Contact precautions. People who are hospitalized with C. difficile have a private room or share a room with someone who has the same illness. Hospital staff and visitors wear disposable gloves and gowns while in the room.
- Thorough cleaning. In any setting, all surfaces should be carefully disinfected with a product that contains chlorine bleach. C. difficile spores can survive routine cleaning products that don't contain bleach.
- Avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics. Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed for viral illnesses that aren't helped by these drugs. Take a wait-and-see attitude with simple ailments. If you do need an antibiotic, ask your doctor to prescribe one that has a narrow range and that you take for the shortest time possible.
Source: Mayo Clinic
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