Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, is infectious bacteria that destroys cells in the lining of the intestine and produces debris and sections of inflammatory cells, known as plaques, according to Mayo Clinic. Some healthy people have C. diff in their large intestine and never experience symptoms, but in most cases, the infection is transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces, objects or foods. The bacteria is carried in feces and often spreads because of poor hand hygiene.
More than 3 million C. diff infections develop annually in U.S. hospitals, making it the most common hospital-acquired infection, states MedicineNet. The bacteria cannot survive outside the body for long, but when an infected person spreads it to other surfaces, the bacteria forms noninfectious spores that can be “reactivated” once ingested. C. diff typically stays dormant until an individual uses antibiotics, which interfere with native bacteria that normally keep infectious bacteria under control. The inflammatory toxins from C. diff trigger an immune system reaction, causing a form of colitis.
Within a few months of antibiotic treatment, a mild infection usually causes abdominal cramping and tenderness, and watery diarrhea three or more times daily, notes Mayo Clinic. In severe infections, diarrhea occurs 10 to 15 times a day, and people may experience dehydration, loss of appetite, nausea, fever and abdominal swelling. When patches of raw, inflamed tissue form in the colon, they may cause bloody or pus-filled stool. Kidney failure is a serious complication caused by rapid dehydration.