How You Can Help in the Fight Against C. diff
Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dr. Cindy Hou, Infectious Diseases Specialist

Clostridium Difficile Infection (CDI), also known as C. diff, is a bacterial infection that can be diagnosed year-round.  While medications are available to treat C. diff, there are times that surgery is needed.  In severe cases, complications like sepsis, renal failure, and even death can occur.  For these reasons, we should all have more awareness about the dangers of C. diff.

Common symptoms and risk factors for C. diff.

Some common symptoms of a C. diff infection may include watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, and occasionally, fevers.  Diagnosis is based on detection of C. diff in a stool sample or by a biopsy from a colonoscopy.  A common risk factor for infection is recent exposure within the past few months to antibiotics.

While antibiotics can be life-saving, studies have shown that many times antibiotics may be unnecessarily prescribed, and over prescribing can unnecessarily increase the risk for C. diff.  As an example, because colds are viruses and not bacterial infections, they should not be treated with antibiotics.

Also, this past year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a safety announcement about the risk of C. diff with acid-reducers such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).  If diarrhea develops and does not stop for patients who are prescribed PPIs, consideration should be given toward checking for C. diff.  At the same time, physicians should be consulted to help direct whether PPIs are medically necessary while at the same time to address the cause of the diarrhea.      

What we can do to help fight the spread of this potentially serious and fatal infection.

People with C. diff can unknowingly spread their disease to others by shedding spores in their environment and on any items they touch.  To help prevent the spread of disease, healthcare workers and families taking care of C. diff patients should wash their hands with soap and water, which kills the C. diff spores. Hand sanitizers do not kill C. diff spores and should not be substituted for thorough hand washing.  Patients with C. diff can do their part by ensuring that individuals they are exposed to take their time to use soap and water when washing their hands.

Dr. Cindy Hou is an Infectious Diseases specialist in private practice at Garden State Infectious Diseases Associates.  Her office phone number is 856-566-3190.