Until about ten years ago, C Diff infection was regarded as a relatively uncommon cause of diarrhea, mainly occurring in elderly hospitalized patients with multiple co-morbidities.
Unfortunately, there has been a dramatic increase in the incidence, severity, and mortality of this infection in recent years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, C. diff is estimated to cause almost half a million illnesses in the United States each year (1).
This infection that causes the inflammation of colon and diarrhea, also lead to the death of around 15,000 patients, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about C Diff, its symptoms, causes and ways to treat it.
What is C Diff?
Clostridium difficile, commonly called C. difficile or C. diff, is an infectious bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening infection of the colon.
This infection, known as Clostridium difficile colitis, usually affects older adults in hospitals or long-term care facilities after the use of antibiotics.
However, there has been an increase of this infection in young and healthy individuals who have not been exposed to care facilities and have no history of antibiotic use.
C. diff is found in the intestines of healthy people (3% adults and 6% babies), and it causes no symptoms.
This is so because the beneficial bacteria in the intestines keep these bacteria under control. When we take antibiotics, the good bacteria get killed, and this leads to the unchecked growth of C. diff.
Symptoms of C. diff
Patients who take antibiotics are at the highest risk of developing C. diff infection. The symptoms usually develop within 5 to 10 days of starting antibiotics.
In some patients, they can develop on the first day or even a month later. C. diff bacteria release toxins that attack and damage the lining of the colon.
They also create patches of inflammatory cells that cause diarrhea. The most common symptoms of mild C. diff infections are (2) –
- Diarrhea including loose, watery stools (three or more times a day for two or more days)
- Abdominal cramping or tenderness
- Loss of appetite
When the infection becomes, severe people can become dehydrated and may need hospitalization.
In case of severe C. diff infection, the colon becomes inflamed and forms patches of raw tissue that can bleed or produce pus. The symptoms of severe C. diff infections are (3) –
- Watery diarrhea
- Severe abdominal cramping and pain
- Blood or pus in stool
- Rapid heart rate
- Swollen abdomen
- Increased white blood cell count
- Kidney failure
- Weight loss
In some rare cases, C. diff infection can also lead to toxic megacolon or bowel perforation.
When a person develops toxic megacolon, the colon is unable to release gas or stool, which causes it to swell and rupture.
This condition can cause death if not dealt with immediately. If a person develops a bowel perforation, dangerous bacteria can escape into the body, which can further lead to dangerous infections like peritonitis.
How is it diagnosed?
You must see your doctor if you have more than three watery stools a day or if these symptoms get more severe or last longer than two days.
It is also important to check with your doctor if you have severe abdominal cramping, blood or pus in stools and fever.
If your doctor suspects you have C. diff infection, he will order a stool test. These include –
- Enzyme immunoassay
- Polymerase chain reaction
If the doctor suspects there is a severe problem with the colon, he may also order an x-ray or CT scan of your intestines.
In some rare cases, the doctor may also perform a procedure called a flexible sigmoidoscopy.
This procedure involves inserting a long and thin device called sigmoidoscope into the colon so that the doctor get a better look into the health of the colon.
How do you get C. diff infection?
The C. diff bacteria is all around us including the air, water, soil, animal and human feces and even in some processed foods.
You can develop a C. diff infection if you touch a contaminated surface, clothing, and sheets and then touch your mouth or nose.
It often spreads in nursing homes, hospitals and health care facilities, where workers are more likely to come in contact with C. bacteria and spread it to patient and residents.
The spores of this bacteria are passed into the feces and can spread to food and other surfaces when infected people don’t wash their hands properly.
The spores of C. diff can live outside the body for weeks and even months. Although many people have C. diff bacteria in their intestines, they remain healthy as the good bacteria in the intestines keep their growth in check.
Antibiotics like fluoroquinolones, penicillins, cephalosporins, and clindamycin, destroy the helpful bacteria, along with the bacteria that cause the infection.
Without the healthy bacteria to keep the growth on C. diff in check, these bacteria can cause a severe infection in the colon.
Risk factors for developing C. diff infections
Some people are at a higher risk for developing C. diff infections. The factors that increase the risk of this infection include –
- Old age (more than 65)
- Taking antibiotics for a long time
- Taking broad-spectrum antibiotics
- Taking medications that reduce stomach acid, including proton pump inhibitors
- Staying in long-term care facilities
- Spending more time in hospitals or nursing homes
- Illnesses like inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer
- Weakened immune system due to medical conditions or chemotherapy
- Having abdominal surgery or a gastrointestinal procedure
- Previous C. diff infections
How is C. diff infection treated?
C. diff is usually treated by using antibiotics. If you have been previously taking any other antibiotics, your doctor will most likely ask you to discontinue its use.
The antibiotics that usually treat C. diff infections are –
You may take these antibiotics orally or intravenously for ten days, depending on the severity of the infection.
It would help if you also drank plenty of fluids to keep your body hydrated during treatment.
In some severe cases where there has been damage to the intestines, you may need surgery to the remove the damaged part.
Natural ways to prevent and treat C. diff
Mild C. diff infections can be easily managed using conventional methods. Here are some of the natural solutions for addressing these infections –
1. Stop taking antibiotics
When you take antibiotics, the good bacteria in the body are also killed off, which gives the opportunity to C. diff bacteria to grow and multiply.
So, it would help if you stopped taking antibiotics that moment you know that you have C. diff infection.
Stopping antibiotics helps improve the C. diff symptoms, especially diarrhea.
2. Eat probiotic foods
The best way to avoid a C. diff infection is to balance your intestinal flora with probiotic-rich foods and supplements.
If you have recently been on antibiotics, having probiotic supplements helps boosts the levels of good bacteria and keeps your gastrointestinal tract healthy.
According to a study published in ‘Infection and Immunity,’ researchers have found that taking new generation probiotics along with antibiotics is helpful in treating C. diff infections (4).
3. Natural antibiotics
Natural antibiotics have been used for years as they have strong antibacterial properties and no side effects. These may be helpful in fighting off C. diff infections naturally –
- Manuka honey: Bees in New Zealand pollinate the Manuka bush to produce manuka, honey. This honey has strong antibiotic properties.
- Garlic: Garlic contains allicin, which is effective against many strains of bacteria. Garlic has antimicrobial, antifungal and antiviral properties.
- Thyme essential oil: Thyme essential oil is helpful against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
- Oregano essential oil: Carvacrol, an ingredient in oregano essential oil, has important antibiotic properties. This essential oil can be diluted with water or coconut oil and taken internally.
- Myrrh extract: According to researchers myrrh extract can kill common pathogens and ward off germs.
4. Avoid some foods
When you have a C. diff infection, the body’s ability to absorb food is compromised. The body may develop temporary lactose intolerance, so avoid dairy foods.
Many C. diff patients become temporary gluten-intolerant as well, so avoid wheat. Here’s a list of some other foods you must avoid (5) –
- Fat-free diet
- Greasy food
- Sugar-free foods
- Spicy foods
- Gassy foods
- Hard-to-digest foods
5. Wash your hands
You must wash your hands thoroughly using soap and water after using the bathroom and before eating food.
This habit helps prevent the spread of infection if you have C. diff infection and it also prevents reinfection.
Research shows that proper hand washing is much more effective in keeping germs at bay as compared to alcohol-based cleansers.
6. Shut the lid
It would be best if you always shut the cover of the toilet before you flush. This smart habit prevents bacteria from spreading to other surfaces on the bathroom.
7. Fecal transplant
Transplanting stool from a healthy person to the colon of a person who repeatedly gets C. diff infections can treat this infection.
On an average, the fecal transplant yields have a cure rate of 91 to 93 percent (6).
The fecal transplant can also be done orally. This procedure involves encapsulating healthy freeze-dried fecal matter and having patients ingest the capsule.
During a 2017 study, 49 patients were given this capsule treatment. Around 43 out of these patients showed no reoccurrence of this infection in the next two months (7).
Clostridium difficile is an infectious bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening infection of the colon.
Older people and people who take antibiotics for an extended period are at a higher risk of developing this infection.
Antibiotics like metronidazole, vancomycin, and fidaxomicin are usually used to treat C. diff infections.
You can also address and prevent this infection by following natural methods like having probiotic food and natural antibiotics.
You must also avoid certain foods that may aggravate the symptoms. Washing hands regularly, keeping the lid of the toilet closed while flushing and maintaining proper hygiene also helps in preventing C. diff infections.