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C. difficile (Clostridium difficile)

Highlights
  • C. difficile bacteria often cause diarrhea that can spread from one person to another.
  • If your child has mild diarrhea with no blood, treatment is likely not needed.
  • Make sure that everyone in your house washes their hands with soap and water.

What is C. difficile?

C. difficile organisms are bacteria found in the environment — in soil, air, water, human and animal feces, and contaminated food products, such as processed meats. It causes mild to severe diarrhea.

C. difficile bacteria often cause diarrhea that can spread from one person to another, especially in hospitals.  

How does C. difficile spread?

C. difficile bacteria are passed in feces and can spread to food, surfaces and objects when people who have the bacteria don't wash their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom. The bacteria can survive on surfaces and objects for weeks or even months. If you touch a surface contaminated with C. difficile, you can get the bacteria on your hands and become infected.  When you are infected, you have C. difficile in your bowel and in your feces.

Some infected people get diarrhea and others do not. People who get diarrhea from C. difficile are usually those who have been on antibiotics recently. This happens because antibiotics can kill other bacteria in the bowel and allow C. difficile to grow quickly.

What are the symptoms of C. difficile?

 While some children and adults carry the bacteria in their large intestine without any symptoms, others may have:

How can I protect my child?

Make sure that everyone in your house washes their hands with soap and water after changing a diaper or using the toilet, and before preparing and eating food.

What happens after my child is diagnosed with C.  difficile?

If your child has mild diarrhea with no blood, treatment is likely not needed and your child will get better on his own.

If your child has bloody diarrhea or more that 4 stools per day, the doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics. If you child seems very ill, the doctor may even admit her to hospital.

When should I call the doctor?

Even if your child hasn’t been diagnosed with C. difficile, call your doctor if he:

  • is vomiting and showing any sign of dehydration, such as
    • no tears when crying,
    • dry skin, mouth and tongue,
    • no or less urine (pee) (fewer than 4 wet diapers in 24 hours),
  • has a fever and is less than 6 months old or has had a fever for more than 72 hours,
  • has severe stomach pain,
  • has severe diarrhea, or
  • has bloody or black stools.


Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee

Last Updated: January 2014

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