Hopkins ABX Guide

Clostridium Difficile Bacterium

What is Clostridium Difficile?

Clostridium difficile is a Gram-positive bacterium from the Clostridium genus. It is found just about everywhere including food, water, soil and air, while some people carry it in their digestive tract without developing any health problems or symptoms of infection. But if it overgrows other microorganisms that are normally present in the digestive tract, the bacteria can cause a condition known as Clostridium difficile infection or Clostridium difficile colitis (colon inflammation) that sometimes causes life-threatening complications.

Who is at Increased Risk of Clostridium Difficile Infection?

Clostridium difficile infection can be developed by anyone who has contracted the bacterium. However, healthy adults usually don’t develop any symptoms of infection and if they do, they are most often mild. People with a compromised immune system (either due to illness or medical procedure), the elderly and people in hospitals/long-term care institutions, on the other hand, are at increased risk of developing a potentially very serious infection.

The risk of Clostridium difficile infection is also higher in people who are taking antibiotics, especially if these are broad-spectrum because they may disrupt the balance between the microorganisms in the digestive tract and provide ideal conditions for Clostridium difficile to thrive.

Symptoms of Clostridium Difficile Infection

Symptoms of Clostridium difficile infection vary greatly from one person to another. Otherwise healthy adults usually develop mild symptoms which may include watery stools/diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. In contrast, people in high risk groups aren’t only more likely to develop the infection but they are also more likely to develop a more severe form of the infection: severe diarrhoea (up to 15 watery stools a day), painful abdominal cramps, pus/blood in stools and fever.

Treatment of Clostridium Difficile Infection

Infection that is a side effect of antibiotic treatment usually resolves after withdrawal of antibiotics that triggered Clostridium difficile overgrowth but it usually requires treatment with antibiotics that kill the bacteria. The type of antibiotics and duration of antibiotic therapy depend on the severity of the infection. People with severe form of infection may also require surgery.

Most people respond well to the standard treatments. However, about one quarter of patients experience relapses or recurrent infections requiring repetition of the antibiotic therapy. Relapses are most often developed by individuals who are also in high risk group for developing the infection in the first place.