About Clostridium difficile

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Clostridium difficile Fact Sheet (PDF: 58KB/2 pages)

What is it?

  • Clostridium difficile is a bacterium that can cause a range of symptoms from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. 

Signs and symptoms

  • Watery diarrhea 3 or more episodes a day, which lasts more than 2 days, is the most common symptom.

  • Other common symptoms include:
    • Fever
    • Loss of appetite
    • Nausea
    • Abdominal pain/cramps
  • Signs and symptoms of severe infection include:
    • Watery diarrhea 10-15 episodes a day
    • Blood  or pus in stool
    • Dehydration
    • Weight loss
  • Loose stools during or shortly after antibiotic therapy are common and may not necessarily be due to a Clostridium difficile infection.
    • Talk to your healthcare provider if you develop diarrhea or any other symptoms while taking antibiotics or if you have any other concerns about your health.

Who gets it?

People at highest risk of infection are:

  • >65 years of age
  • Those with serious illnesses
  • Those who have recently taken antibiotics
    • Taking antibiotics can disrupt the normal balance of bacteria in a person’s intestines allowing Clostridium difficile bacteria to multiply; this can damage the lining of the intestine causing inflammation of the colon, which results in a Clostridium difficile infection.
  • Young people and people with no recent antibiotic history can also be infected.

How is it spread?

  • C. difficile bacteria are spread through the fecal-oral route. If a person touches items or surfaces that are contaminated with feces, then touch their mouth, they can become infected.
  • Anyone (including healthcare workers) can spread C. difficile bacteria to other people through hand contact.

Where can you be exposed to Clostridium difficile?

  • Healthcare facilities
    • Being hospitalized or spending time in a healthcare facility (e.g. nursing home) can put people at risk for infection with Clostridium difficile
  • Home and other settings in the community
    • Clostridium difficile prevention
      Tips to prevent Clostridium difficile transmission in your home, and preventing Clostridium difficile transmission in childcare settings.
    • Clostridium difficile can also infect animals and is occasionally found in foods such as meat and raw produce, but it is unknown how this contamination relates to human illness.

Testing and diagnosis

  • If you have symptoms and suspect you have a C. difficile infection, talk with your healthcare provider.
  • Your healthcare provider may order a test to determine if your symptoms are caused by Clostridium difficile.


  • Symptomatic Clostridium difficile infections can generally be treated with specific antibiotics prescribed by your healthcare provider.

Antibiotics and Clostridium difficile

  • Antibiotics are powerful medicines that help cure certain infections caused by bacteria. These drugs are not helpful for infections caused by viruses such as the flu, a cold, or bronchitis.
  • Taking antibiotics may increase your risk of developing an infection caused by Clostridium difficile
    • Let your healthcare provider decide when antibiotics are needed; do not demand an antibiotic prescription.
    • If you are prescribed an antibiotic, always finish the entire prescription unless instructed otherwise by your healthcare provider.
    • Never share your antibiotics with others.
  • Antimicrobial Resistance
    More information on antibiotics can be found on the MDH antimicrobial resistance page and from the Minnesota Antibiotic Resistance Collaborative.


  • If left untreated, serious complications of severe C. difficile infection include:
    • Dehydration
    • Serious intestinal conditions such as colitis
    • Death (in rare cases)


Updated Tuesday, July 01, 2014 at 10:17AM