You’re at Risk for C diff
What is C Diff?
Clostridium difficile (C. diff) is a type of bacteria (germ) that lives in the digestive tract
(stomach and intestines or bowel). Toxins made by C. diff can cause diarrhea, but this is rare
when we are healthy. In most cases, C. diff leads to problems for us when we have a lot of it or a
special type of it in our bodies. There is a type of C. diff that makes people sick because it makes
a lot of toxin.
Who is most at risk for C Diff?
Healthy people seldom get sick with C. diff.
People at risk:
ξ Those using antibiotics for a long time
ξ The elderly
ξ People who’ve had a recent stay at a hospital (greater risk of being exposed to C. diff)
ξ Those who have a severe illness
ξ Those with weakened immune systems
ξ People who use medicine to control stomach acid (proton-pump inhibitors such as
What antibiotics have the highest risk?
It will be important for you to talk with your doctor about the risk of getting C. diff if starting an
What can be done to reduce my risk?
1. Wash hands. Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to prevent the spread
of C. diff. You should wash your hands after using the bathroom and before eating. Wash
your hands with soap for at least 15 to 30 seconds. Special care should be given to
fingernails, between fingers, and the wrists. Alcohol gels like Purell are good for
everyday use, but if you visit someone who has C. diff be sure to use soap and water
because these gels may not kill all the C. diff germs.
2. Take probiotics. A probiotic is a supplement that is made up of good bacteria. In our
gut, we have many bacteria that are helpful and keep our digestive system healthy. These
good bacteria may be killed when taking an antibiotic. This can lead to diarrhea. Some
studies show that taking a probiotic while being treated with an antibiotic reduces the risk
of C. diff infection.
What are the side effects of probiotics?
Probiotics are rather safe and well tolerated. Probiotics may cause upset stomach, bloating, gas,
or constipation. These are usually mild and will go away.
Who should not use probiotics?
Probiotics are not recommended for patients with a weakened immune system. The probiotic
may cause an infection in someone whose immune system does not work well. Patients who may
be at risk include patients who have low white blood cells (neutropenic) and patients who take
medicines that weaken their immune system (transplant patients). If you think you may have a
weakened immune system, you should talk to your doctor before using probiotics.
When do I take probiotics?
Start taking the probiotic on the day that you start your antibiotic. Keep taking your probiotic for
one week after you have stopped the antibiotic.
What should I do if I have diarrhea while taking antibiotics and probiotics?
Some diarrhea is normal while taking antibiotics, even with the use of a probiotic. You should
call your doctor if:
ξ You are having more than 3 loose stools per day for several days.
ξ You are having abdominal cramping and pain that began after starting antibiotics.
ξ You notice blood in the stool.
What probiotic should I take?
Probiotics can be expensive and studies have not found the perfect probiotic. Ask your
pharmacist or doctor which probiotic you should take. Most probiotics have either Lactobacillus
or Saccharomyces on the label. You should not take a probiotic instead of another prescribed
medicine. Many yogurts also contain active cultures. Be sure to discuss with your doctor
whether you can eat yogurt instead of taking a probiotic.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 12/2015 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#7853