The superbug Clostridium difficile, commonly referred to as C. difficile, is making headlines in Canada as it spreads virulently through Ontario hospitals. The recent outbreak of C. difficile has claimed the lives of 18 Ontario elders and has sickened many others. It is believed that this strain of C. difficile is the same strain that claimed the lives of several people in Quebec in 2006.
What is C. difficile?
C. difficile is a bacterium found in feces. It can also live on people and inanimate objects, such as bed sheets, chairs, toilet seats and grocery carts. Most of the time C. difficile only infects those who are taking antibiotics. This is because antibiotics tend to kill all of the bacteria in the body, even some of the “good” bacteria that are naturally present in the gut. In a healthy person, the “good” bacteria are able to kill the “bad” bacteria that passes through the body on a regular basis. C. difficile is antibiotic-resistant, meaning that it cannot be killed by regular antibiotics; therefore, when all other bacteria is wiped out by antibiotics, it is able to thrive.
How is C. difficile spread from person to person?
If you touch an object or person that has been contaminated by feces and then touch your mouth or nose, you can become infected with the bacterium. Even if you can’t see the feces, the bacterium can still be present if the person did not wash their hands well or if the object was not properly disinfected.
Is my family at risk of getting C. difficile?
Healthy people are not typically at risk of getting C. difficile, but members of your family may be at risk if they have recently been hospitalized, been treated with antibiotics, taken certain stomach medication, undergone stomach surgery, or received chemotherapy treatment.
How can I protect my family and myself from C. difficile?
- Wash your hands and encourage your children to wash their hands frequently, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and before and after working in or visiting a hospital or long-term care facility.
- Take only antibiotics that have been prescribed to you and make sure you finish the whole prescription, even if you are feeling better.
To learn more about the symptoms and treatment of C. difficile, visit Clostridium difficile. For more information on hand hygiene, see Handwashing.
Ashley Murphy, MHSc (c), RD
Nutrition Communication Intern