Clostridium difficile Infection (C. diff, CDI, C. difficile)

What is Clostridium difficile?

Clostridium difficile is a spore-forming, gram-positive anaerobic bacillus that produces two exotoxins: toxin A and toxin B. It is a common cause of antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD). It accounts for 15-25% of all episodes of AAD.

Clostridium difficile is a bacterium that may develop due to the prolonged use of antibiotics during healthcare treatment. Clostridium difficile infections cause diarrhea and more serious intestinal conditions such as colitis. The CDC provides guidelines and tools to the healthcare community to help end clostridium difficile infections and resources to help the public understand these infections and take measures to safeguard their own health when possible.

C. difficile is an anaerobic, gram-positive bacterium. Normally fastidious in its vegetative state, it is capable of sporulating when environmental conditions no longer support its continued growth. The capacity to form spores enables the organism to persist in the environment (e.g., in soil and on dry surfaces) for extended periods of time. Environmental contamination by this microorganism is well known, especially in places where fecal contamination may occur. The environment (especially housekeeping surfaces) rarely serves as a direct source of infection for patients. However, direct exposure to contaminated patient-care items (e.g., rectal thermometers) and high-touch surfaces in patients’ bathrooms (e.g., light switches) have been implicated as sources of infection.

How is Clostridium difficile transmitted?

Clostridium difficile is shed in feces. Any surface, device, or material (e.g., commodes, bathing tubs, and electronic rectal thermometers) that becomes contaminated with feces may serve as a reservoir for the Clostridium difficile spores. Clostridium difficile spores are transferred to patients mainly via the hands of healthcare personnel who have touched a contaminated surface or item.

Transfer of the pathogen to the patient via the hands of health-care workers is thought to be the most likely mechanism of exposure. Standard isolation techniques intended to minimize enteric contamination of patients, health-care–workers’ hands, patient-care items, and environmental surfaces have been published. Hand washing remains the most effective means of reducing hand contamination. Proper use of gloves is an ancillary measure that helps to further minimize transfer of these pathogens from one surface to another.

What can I use to clean and disinfect surfaces and devices to help control Clostridium difficile?

Surfaces should be kept clean, and body substance spills should be managed promptly as outlined in CDC’s "Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control in Health-Care Facilities." Adobe PDF file [PDF 1.4 MB] Routine cleaning should be performed prior to disinfection. EPA-registered disinfectants with a sporicidal claim have been used with success for environmental surface disinfection in those patient-care areas where surveillance and epidemiology indicate ongoing transmission of Clostridium difficile. It is important to distinguish the need for a disinfectant with a sporicidal claim. Currently only specific bleach containing products have this registration. Bleach harms surfaces and is hazardous to the user. Normally, HAI’s can often be controlled with good cleaning practices and a non bleach disinfectant.

The recommended approach to environmental infection control with respect to C. difficile is meticulous cleaning followed by disinfection using hypochlorite-based germicides as appropriate. I recommend using microfiber towels and an accelerated hydrogen peroxide based disinfectant. There are now a few products with a C.difficile claim. One I have tried is Dispatch wipes. I found the odor to be acceptable for most of my staff but the film left after using is a significant and required a second cleaning to remove it for an acceptable appearance.

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