There’s a big bad bug running around the United States. It’s called Clostridium Difficile. People call it “C Diff” for short. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), C Diff infections caused over half a million infections in the United States in 2015. What is particularly worrisome is that 100,000 of those cases occurred in nursing homes.
Of those cases, approximately 29,000 patients died within a month of the diagnosis. 15,000 of those 29,000 deaths were directly attributable to the C Diff infection.
C Diff is a bacterium found in many people’s intestines. Normally it is held at bay by healthy gut bacteria. However, when antibiotics for another condition wipe out the good gut bacteria, the C Diff can grow. Left unchecked, C. Diff will cause lots of problems.
People with C Diff infections will have watery (and smelly) diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, and abdominal pain. It is much more common among the elderly who already have a compromised immune system.
Once people have C Diff infections, they can release spores into the air through a bowel movement. The spores are very contagious. They can infect other people in the area very quickly.
Solutions to C Diff Infections
When someone starts having diarrhea, doctors will often suspect C. Diff. If you don’t have diarrhea, you can be pretty sure you don’t have C Diff. The doctor will normally take a sample of your stool and run it through several lab tests.
In rare cases they might also want to examine your colon with a colonoscopy. They are looking for:
- Thickening of colon wall
- Expansion of the bowel or more rarely,
- A hole or perforation in the colon
The first step in the treatment of C Diff infections is (kind of obvious) to stop taking the antibiotic that caused the infection. Then the doctor will, if you can believe it, prescribe another antibiotic that will kill off the C. Diff bacteria. Normally they will prescribe one of three medications:
- Fidaxomicin or (in rare cases)
People with severe cases of C Diff infections may have other conditions including severe pain, organ failure, toxic megacolon or inflammation of the lining of the abdominal wall. In these cases, the doctor may need to do surgery to remove the infected part of the colon.
Recurrent C Diff
People with the following conditions are more prone to have to deal with C Diff infections on multiple occasions:
- Elderly with a weakened immune system
- Taking antibiotics for another condition while taking C. Diff antibiotics
- Have another serious medical disorder with the kidneys, liver or bowel
To help people with multiple bouts of C Diff, the doctor will start with more antibiotics. Then they may move to a procedure called Fecal Microbiota Transplant or FMT. Yes it is what you think it is. A doctor will take a stool sample from a healthy individual and transplant it into the infected person’s colon. They will use either a colonoscope or nasogastric tube. The idea is to introduce healthy bacteria back into the unhealthy gut to contain the C Diff bacteria.
Although it’s still an experimental procedure, FMT enjoys about an 85% success rate when tried one or more times.
Along the lines of restoring healthy bacteria into a sick person’s gut, doctors may also recommend the patient take a probiotic. The sooner those healthy bacteria move back in, the sooner they can control the C Diff.
Here’s also an alternative way to potentially cure your C Diff infections:
Preventing C. Diff Infections
By now it should be obvious that staying healthy and keeping your immune system intact is the best way to prevent C Diff infections. Most of the time if you’re not using antibiotics, you probably won’t experience an infection.
Recently C Diff infections have been found more and more outside of hospitals and nursing homes. It seems to be spreading into communities. Investigators have found up to 42% of meat products contain C Diff. Many farm animals have the bacterium in their gut. They can pass it along to humans through eating the meat.
The trouble with C Diff is that cooking doesn’t kill it. You can cook chicken for 2 hours and still not kill the bacteria. Neither does alcohol-based sanitizers. That’s why it’s advisable to use gloves when handling raw meat.
Studies are also showing that C Diff thrives on the standard, sugar-rich diet that many Americans eat. Scientists have known for a long time that sugar can have an adverse affect on your immune system. But now it looks like bacteria like C Diff are evolving to use sugar as fuel.
If you have an elderly loved one in your family that has a big sweet tooth, you may want to help them recover from their addiction. We wrote another blog post on how to lessen or even eliminate those sugar cravings.
Anything you can do to improve your immune system and gut health will lessen the chances of contracting C. Diff. There are articles all over the internet that describe foods that are packed with antioxidants and immune system boosters.
C Diff and Assisted Living Homes
C Diff really hits home for us. There is a large retiree population around Goodyear and Surprise. They are prime candidates for the infection.
We just had a C Diff scare in our assisted living home in Goodyear, Arizona. One of our residents returned from the hospital with a large amount of antibiotics. Then we noticed the resident had a lot of diarrhea. Some of the other residents quickly started showing signs as well.
Our well-trained staff took immediate action. They worked with one of our mobile doctors to take diarrhea samples back to the lab. Then they quarantined the house and cleaned all the surfaces they could with a bleach solution. Everyone donned gowns and masks to avoid breathing in the spores.
Fortunately, the lab tests came back negative. Our doctor attributed the diarrhea to some Chinese food one of our resident’s families brought to everyone the night before. We were glad it wasn’t C Diff, but we are remaining vigilant. With the rate of increase of this infection, you can never be too sure.