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What is C. diff bacteria?

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Quick Answer

Clostridium difficile bacteria are organisms that live in the human digestive tract. Normally, C. diff causes no problems; however, under certain circumstances, imbalances allow it to grow out of control. The bacteria then release toxins that attack the lining of the intestines, causing colitis.

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Full Answer

The symptoms of an infection with C. diff range from mild to severe. Mild cases usually pass after a few days, but more severe ones can cause 15 or more episodes of diarrhea daily and weight loss. The infection may lead to a perforation of the intestine in a condition that is fatal without immediate treatment.

C. diff infections are most common in individuals in long-term health-care facilities and those who must use general-spectrum antibiotics. The antibiotics kill off the beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract that normally keep C. diff in check.

C. diff infections are contagious. The bacteria live on contaminated surfaces for an extended period. Touching a contaminated surface and then the mouth is a common path of infection. Bleach is effective at sanitizing contaminated clothing and surfaces.

Doctors sometimes treat C. diff infections with oral antibiotics. They usually do not recommend antidiarrheal medications, as they make the infection worse. In individuals with repeat infections, fecal transplants seem to offer the greatest hope for recovery.

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