Clostridium Difficile

Patient Leaflets Team

  • Reference Number: HEY-156/2017
  • Departments: Infection Prevention and Control
  • Last Updated: 12 January 2017


This information tells you about a type of bacteria (germ) called Clostridium difficile that can sometimes cause people to develop diarrhoea.  It explains what it is, what causes it and what you should do to prevent the spread.  It is not meant to replace informed discussion between you and your doctor, but can act as a starting point for discussion.

If after reading this leaflet, you have any concerns or require further explanation please speak with the nurse caring for you.

What is Clostridium difficile?

Clostridium difficile lives in the bowel and can be present in low numbers in healthy adults.  However, if the number of Clostridium difficile bacteria increases then it can cause illness.  This can occur following treatment with antibiotics because the bacteria are able to flourish in the absence of other bacteria, which have been reduced or killed by the antibiotics.

What are the symptoms of Clostridium difficile illness?

The main symptom of Clostridium difficile illness is diarrhoea which can last for days or weeks if left untreated.  The bacteria produce toxins that can affect the bowel and cause additional symptoms which can include fever, abdominal pain and nausea.

How did I get it?

People who have been on antibiotic therapy are more susceptible to acquiring Clostridium difficile, as are those over 65 years of age and anyone who has recently undergone abdominal surgery.

How is it spread?

The bacteria produce spores, which contaminate the environment during the diarrhoea stage.  These spores can be easily picked up and spread to other susceptible patients.

How is it diagnosed?

As a patient unexpectedly experiencing diarrhoea, you would be tested for Clostridium difficile  especially if you have recently been taking or have completed a course of antibiotics.

A stool (poo) sample sent to the laboratory would be tested for a toxin produced by the Clostridium bacteria.

How is it treated?

This usually involves commencing an appropriate course of oral antibiotics specifically aimed at reducing the Clostridium bacteria in the bowel. If possible any current antibiotics you are taking may be stopped. Treatment is usually successful but occasionally patients can relapse and it may be necessary to recommence oral antibiotics if symptoms re-occur.

Should I take any special precautions?

If you have symptoms of diarrhoea then you will be asked to move into a single room until your bowel habits return to normal.  It may be necessary to transfer you to another ward if you require specialist care.

If your room does not have en-suite facilities you may be asked to use a specifically allocated toilet to reduce the risk of it spreading to other patients.

Staff will wear gloves and aprons when performing your care.  This is to minimise the risk of spread to other patients.  Visitors performing or assisting with direct patient care are also required to wear gloves and aprons.  At other times they are not required to take these precautions providing that they are not having contact with other hospital patients.  They must always be careful to wash their hands before and after giving care, when leaving the side room and on entering and leaving the clinical area.

To prevent the spread of Clostridium difficile hands must be thoroughly washed with soap and water rather than using alcohol hand gel.

If you are experiencing symptoms of diarrhoea it is particularly important to wash your hands after visiting the toilet to prevent re-infection.

Should you require further advice please do not hesitate to contact the Infection Prevention and Control Team on telephone number (01482) 674869 or 623066

This leaflet was produced by the Infection Control Department, Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and will be reviewed in January 2020.

General Advice and Consent

Most of your questions should have been answered by this leaflet, but remember that this is only a starting point for discussion with the healthcare team.

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Before any doctor, nurse or therapist examines or treats you, they must seek your consent or permission. In order to make a decision, you need to have information from health professionals about the treatment or investigation which is being offered to you. You should always ask them more questions if you do not understand or if you want more information.

The information you receive should be about your condition, the alternatives available to you, and whether it carries risks as well as the benefits. What is important is that your consent is genuine or valid. That means:

  • you must be able to give your consent
  • you must be given enough information to enable you to make a decision
  • you must be acting under your own free will and not under the strong influence of another person

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We may pass on relevant information to other health organisations that provide you with care. All information is treated as strictly confidential and is not given to anyone who does not need it. If you have any concerns please ask your doctor, or the person caring for you.

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