C diff is more properly known as Clostridium difficile or C difficile but whatever you call it, this is one tencacious bacteria.
It is a spore-forming anaerobic bacteria and has become much more prevelent in recent times being routinely found in hospitals. It is found in the soil, air, water, as well as in both human and animal feces. The bacteria is passed in our faeces and if hand washing is less than adequate can be passed on to other people and left on surfaces where the spores can survive for months and even years3.
C diff infection is responsible for almost all cases of pseudomembranous colitis and for 15 to 25% of cases of antibiotic-associated diarrhea1. Risk factors for the different types of C diff infection include being aged over 65 years, previous hospitalization and recent use of antibiotics1.
Many healthy people naturally carry the bacteria in their large intestine and are unaffected by it but a much higher percentage of hospital patients carry it and suffer complications from it varying from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon.
Once established in the human gut, it can produce toxins that attack the lining of the intestine. These toxins destroy cells and produce patches of inflammatory cells and decaying cellular debris inside the colon.
The antibiotics that most often lead to Clostridium difficile infections include fluoroquinolones, cephalosporins, clindamycin and penicillins.
The most effective antibiotics for treatment are oral metronidazole and vancomycin1 but remember that the most common cause of it is the use of antibiotics - Catch 22!
Most people in good health don't get sick from it. Your best defense is to have an intestinal tract teeming with good bacteria. Taking probiotics is one way to achieve that.
When you take antibiotics to treat an infection, they destroy not only the harmful bacteria that is causing your problems but the normal, helpful bacteria that protect you.
If you believe you may potentially be exposed to this bacteria - perhaps by visiting someone in hospital - check out preventing C difficile infection to see what antibacterial washes work best.
And check out the two best probiotics for C diff infection.
A new aggressive epidemic strain has appeared since the early 2000's - NAP1/BI/027 also known as BI NAP1 or NAP1/O27.
To quote from the John G Bartlett MD article - Narrative Review: The New Epidemic of Clostridium difficile Associated Enteric Disease published in the Annuals of Internal Medicine, 2006 (145:758-764):
"This epidemic, with a large increase of patients with infection, many experiencing severe complications, raised the possibility of a new strain of C. difficile that had unique properties accounting for enhanced virulence. This suspicion was confirmed by analysis of epidemic strains from Quebec and 8 U.S. sites. Results of the analysis showed a highly characteristic strain, designated BI/NAP1, that has been rare historically and is responsible for the majority of these outbreaks."
Since then, this new superbug strain has become more and more common. Read more about the increase in C Diff Colitis
1. Eckert C, Barbut F. Clostridium difficile associated-infections. Med Sci (Paris). 2010 Feb;26(2):153-8.
2. Gao XW, Mubasher M, Fang CY, Reifer C, Miller LE. Dose-Response Efficacy of a Proprietary Probiotic Formula of Lactobacillus acidophilus CL1285 and Lactobacillus casei LBC80R for Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea and Clostridium difficile-Associated Diarrhea Prophylaxis in Adult Patients. Am J Gastroenterol. 2010 Feb 9.
3. Perry Hookman and Jamie S Barkin. Clostridium difficile associated infection, diarrhea and colitis. World J Gastroenterol. 2009 April 7; 15(13): 1554-1580.