23 Oct What You Need to Know About C. Diff
Think You Have C. Diff
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The human digestive tract is home to thousands of species of microorganisms most of which are harmless under normal circumstances. But when their balance is affected, these organisms grow out of control leading to diseases. A major culprit is a bacteria known as Clostridium difficile (C. diff or C. difficile). As it grows, it releases toxins that eat away the lining of the intestines leading to a condition known as Clostridium difficilecolitis. Though this condition is rare, C. diff is a major cause of infectious diarrhea in the U.S and other parts of the world.
Signs and Symptoms of C. diff
C. diff ranges from mild to severe. The symptoms of a mild infection include:
- Watery diarrhea, 3-4 times a day for several days
- Abdominal pain and tenderness.
Signs and symptoms of a severe C. diff infection include:
- Watery diarrhea, 10-15 times daily
- Rapid heart rate
- Severe abdominal pain and cramping
- Blood in stool
- Kidney failure
- Swollen abdomen
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Increased white blood cells
- Though rare, severe C. diff infection can lead to a hole in the intestines which can be fatal
C. diff infection is diagnosed by testing stool specimen for toxins. A colonoscopy may be required for further tests and diagnosis.
Risk Factors for C. diff
Although healthy people can get the C. diff infection, the following factors increase the risks.
- Taking antibiotics and other medications
Medications that increase the risk of getting C. diff infection include:
- Taking antibiotics for an extended period
- Taking multiple antibiotics
- Taking medicines such as proton pump inhibitors to reduce stomach acid
- Taking antibiotics currently or having taken them
- Taking broad spectrum antibiotics.
- Undergoing a medical procedure or having a serious illness
If you have a serious ailment such as colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or a weak immune system due to treatment such as chemotherapy, you have a higher risk of getting a C. diff infection. Your susceptibility to C. diff infection is also high after a gastrointestinal procedure or abdominal surgery.
Older people also have a higher risk of C. difficile infection.
- Staying in a health care facility
A majority of C. difficile infection occur after exposure to healthcare facilities such as nursing homes, hospitals as well as long-term care facilities. This is because C. difficile spreads easily from one person through hands, thermometers, stethoscopes, sinks, toilets, bedside tables, bed rails, remote controls and even telephones and there is a high use of antibiotics.
After having C. diff infection, there is a 20 percent chance of having another infection and the risk increases with every subsequent infection.
Treatments for C. diff
Doctors often prescribe 10-14 days use of one of the following antibiotics: vancomycin (Vancocin), Dificid (fidaxomicin) or metronidazole. Improvements occur within 72 hours but the bout of diarrhea may take longer to clear up.
In addition to the above antibiotics, other treatments include:
- Fluids to prevent dehydration from diarrhea.
In the case of severe C. difficile, doctors may recommend treatment with monoclonal antibodies and fecal transplant.
Preventing C. difficile Infection
C. difficile infection spreads from one person to another. Fortunately, this can be prevented by maintaining good hygiene. The following precautions will help keep you safe.
- Wash your hand with soap and running water regularly.
- Use chlorine bleach-based products to clean kitchen and bathroom surfaces regularly
- Wash dirty clothes with chlorine bleach and detergent.
- When visiting someone in a health facility, wash your hands before and after the visit.
- Avoid the use of antibiotics unless when recommended by a doctor.
Dr. Sue Reddy specializes in the treatment of infectious disease among many other specialties. She understands what is required to live a healthy, active life. Please feel free to take a look around her website and if you feel she provides services you may be interested in, give Dr. Reddy a call. Her staff would be more than happy to set up an appointment and answer any questions you may have.