Clostridium difficile (often referred to as C. diff) is a bacterium that is present naturally in the gut of around 3% of adults and 66% of children.
C. diff does not cause any problems in healthy people. However, some antibiotics that are used to treat other health conditions can interfere with the balance of 'good' bacteria in the gut. When this happens , C. diff bacteria can multiply and cause symptoms such as diarrhoea and fever.
As C. diff infections are usually caused by antibiotics, most cases usually happen as a result of healthcare, such as a hospital or care home. Older people are most at risk from infection, with the majority of cases (80%) occurring in people over the age of 65.
Most people with a C. diff infection make a full recovery. However, in very rare cases the infection can be fatal.
The number of C. diff cases rose 7% between 2005 and 2006, to 55,620 in 2006. One of the main reasons for this rise is the improvement in tests to diagnose the infection, but there has clearly been an increase in the number of cases.
In most cases, C. diff infections can be prevented by reducing the use and types of antibiotics used, effective hand washing and keeping the environment clean.
It is important to know that C.diff is resistant to the disinfectant gel so hand must be washed BEFORE gel is applied when in contact with anyone who has diarrhoea.
You can download our patient information leaflet about Clostridium difficile here.