C. Diff Infection Poses Risk to People in Long-Term Care Facilities

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Recently, an elderly relative hospitalized to remove fluid in his extremities that was being retained. However, another health issue emerged suddenly, requiring emergency surgery. After a period of time in the hospital’s intensive care unit, the loved one moved to the intermediate care unit. Within a few days, the loved one spiked a fever and started shaking uncontrollably. He was immediately taken back in ICU and we soon heard the diagnosis: “C. Diff.”

    This infection, which is fully named clostridium difficile, is an opportunistic little bugger. And the more I mentioned C. diff to friends (especially those who were health care workers), the more I heard about cases of people struggling with this nasty infection. So while my relative who was hospitalized doesn’t have dementia, I still wanted to take the liberty of sharing this information with this HealthCentral community because this infection tends to attack people who have compromised health or lives in a long-term care facility (which many people with dementia do). And while it typically strikes people who have used antibiotic medications, C. diff is increasingly being seen in people who are younger and healthier, who haven’t been in health care facilities and who do not have a history of antibiotic use. In fact, this infection is contracted by more than 500,000 people annually.

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    There are two types of C. diff conditions. In the first, there is an active infection that has symptoms ranging from mild to severe. These symptoms can include watery diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, blood or pus in the stool, nausea, dehydration, weight loss, stomach pain and tenderness, kidney failure and increased white blood cell count. This infection also can lead to life-threatening inflammation of the colon, which requires surgery to remove the portion of the intestines that has been infected. The second type involves person who are “colonized,” in that they have C. diff bacteria in their bowels but are not experiencing any symptoms.

    C. diff spores actually can live outside the human body for an extremely long time; its spores can survive for many weeks on surfaces. This infection is spread when people don’t wash their hands properly after using the bathroom. They spread the bacteria to other locations around the residence (bed linens, bathroom, bed rails, fixtures, medical equipment) that are then touched by the elder. Eventually the germs come into contact with the mouth of the elder who then develops the infection. C. diff also can be spread when health care workers don’t wash their hands thoroughly as they move between patients.

    So what should caregivers do to prevent a C. Diff. infection? Here are some tips:

    • Make sure that the loved one’s room and medical equipment are cleaned carefully and regularly.
    • An effective way to clean dishes, silverware and glassware is in the dishwasher or hand-washing.
    • People who don’t have diarrhea are much less likely to spread germs into the environment.
    • If diarrhea occurs, use a cleaner that includes bleach to clean the bathroom and high-touch areas. If you’re using bleach only, follow the directions on the label to get the proper solution. You should wet the surface well and clean vigorously, then allow the surface to air dry. You should focus efforts on areas that may be soiled with stool, such as the toilet and the toilet’s flush handle, the sink, and areas such as door knobs and light switches that the person’s hands could touch.
    • Separately wash clothes or fabrics that might have been soiled with diarrhea. The stool should be rinsed into the toilet first, and then washed in hot water with soap. When the fabric will allow it, use bleach. If possible, dry these items on high heat.
    • Everyone should make sure their hands are cleaned with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before and after seeing a loved one who is in the hospital or living in a long-term care facility.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (ND). FAQs about “Clostridium Difficile”.

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    Mayo Clinic. (2013). C. difficile infection.


    Vermont Department of Health. (ND). Living with C. diff.

Published On: July 02, 2014