What is C. difficile infection?

Clostridium difficile (klos-TRID-e-um dif-uh-SEEL), often called C. difficile or C. diff, is a bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammationof the colon. Illness from C. difficile most commonly affects older adults in hospitals or in long-term care facilities and typically occurs after use of antibiotic medications.

What are the symptoms?

Some people carry the bacterium C. difficile in their intestines but never become sick, though they may still spread the infection. Signs and symptoms usually develop within five to 10 days after starting a course of antibiotics, but may occur as soon as the first day or up to two months later.

Mild to moderate infection

The most common symptoms of mild to moderate C. difficile infection are:

  • Watery diarrhea three or more times a day for two or more days
  • Mild abdominal cramping and tenderness

Severe infection

  • Watery diarrhea 10 to 15 times a day
  • Abdominal cramping and pain, which may be severe
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fever
  • Blood or pus in the stool
  • Nausea
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Kidney failure
  • Increased white blood cell count