Is C. diff (Clostridium difficile) Contagious?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

C. diff Infection Symptoms

A person with a mild C. diff (C. difficile) infection may have symptoms of

  • a low-grade fever,
  • watery stools for 5-10 days (mild diarrhea), and
  • mild abdominal cramps and tenderness.

A person with severe C. diff infection may have symptoms of

  • a high fever of 102 F to 104 F (39 C to 40 C),
  • more than 10 watery stools a day (severe diarrhea) with blood, and
  • severe abdominal pain and tenderness.

What is C. diff (Clostridium difficile)?

Clostridium difficile or C. diff is a bacterium. Microscopically it is referred to as gram positive and rod-shaped. It is exists best in a low oxygen environment. It was first described in 1935, and is considered one of the most common causes of infections in the colon. Clostridium difficile is also referred to as C. diff and C. difficile.

C. diff can be found in uninfected persons. However, people taking antibiotics are risk of becoming infected with this bacterium as antibiotics disrupt the normal bowel bacteria and allow C. diff to grow rapidly (proliferate). The growth of C. diff in the colon leads to inflammation of the colon (colitis, specifically pseudomembranous colitis). Adults aged 65 years and older are at higher risk to become infected.

Is C. diff (Clostridium difficile) contagious?

Yes, C. diff is contagious. Microorganisms can be spread from person-to-person by touch or by direct contact with contaminated objects and surfaces (for example, clothing, cell phones, door handles). Some individuals are carriers of this bacterium but have no symptoms of infection. However, these people are still infected with the bacteria can spread the infection to others.

In general, the bacteria have to increase in numbers rapidly to cause disease, so the bacteria can be transferred to people, but not cause significant infection immediately. Disease occurs when conditions favor growth of these organisms. Conditions that favor growth are

  • weakened immune systems,
  • the elderly, and
  • especially individuals that are hospitalized, and are being treated with antibiotics that suppress the normal bowel flora.

Avoiding direct and indirect physical contact with contaminated areas reduces the likelihood of contagion.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/23/2016

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Newsletters

Get the latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors