Clostridium Difficile Colitis (Antibiotic-Associated Colitis, C. difficile Colitis, C. diff, C diff,)

  • Medical Author:
    Dennis Lee, MD

    Dr. Lee was born in Shanghai, China, and received his college and medical training in the United States. He is fluent in English and three Chinese dialects. He graduated with chemistry departmental honors from Harvey Mudd College. He was appointed president of AOA society at UCLA School of Medicine. He underwent internal medicine residency and gastroenterology fellowship training at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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Quick GuideBacterial Infections 101: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments

Bacterial Infections 101: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments

What is Clostridium difficile (C. difficile?)

Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) is a bacterium that is related to the bacteria that cause tetanus and botulism. The C. difficile bacterium has two forms, an active, infectious form that cannot survive in the environment for prolonged periods, and an inactive, "noninfectious" form, called a spore, that can survive in the environment for prolonged periods. Although spores cannot cause infection directly, when they are ingested they transform into the active, infectious form.

C. difficile spores are found frequently in:

  • hospitals,
  • nursing homes,
  • extended care facilities, and
  • nurseries for newborn infants.

They can be found on:

  • bedpans,
  • furniture,
  • toilet seats,
  • linens,
  • telephones,
  • stethoscopes,
  • fingernails,
  • rings (jewelry),
  • floors,
  • infants' rooms, and
  • diaper pails.

They even can be carried by pets. Thus, these environments are a ready source for infection with C. difficile.

What Clostridium difficile colitis?

Antibiotic-associated (C. difficile) colitis is an infection of the colon caused by C. difficile that occurs primarily among individuals who have been using antibiotics. C. difficile infections are commonly acquired during hospital stays, infecting approximately 1% of patients admitted to hospitals in the United States. C. difficile may also be acquired in the community, however.

It is the most common infection acquired by patients while they are in the hospital. More than three million C. difficile infections occur in hospitals in the US each year. After a stay of only two days in a hospital, 10% of patients will develop infection with C. difficile. C. difficile also may be acquired outside of hospitals in the community. It is estimated that 20,000 infections with C. difficile occur in the community each year in the U.S.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/13/2015

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