Clostridium difficile (sometimes shortened to 'C.diff') is a bacterium (germ) that lives harmlessly in the large intestine of around 3% of healthy adults and 66% of infants.

It rarely causes a problem in children or healthy adults as the normal bacterial population of the intestine keeps it in check.

Clostridium difficile infection can cause a range of symptoms from mild diarrhoea to, in extreme and unusual cases, life-threatening disease due to inflammation in the intestine.

The majority of patients recover totally following treatment for clostridium difficile infection.

Over 80% of cases of clostridium difficile infection are reported in people aged over 65.

Causes of clostridium difficile

As described above, clostridium difficile can live harmlessly in the gut of patients, but certain antibiotics can disturb the balance of the bacteria, which then allows clostridium difficile to multiply rapidly and produce toxins which cause illness.

It can also be picked up from other people, especially if they have recently had diarrhoea.

Clostridium difficile infection can be spread on the hands of people who have come into contact with infected patients or with contaminated environmental surfaces. 

This is why staff, visitors and patients need to wash their hands with soap and water and also why environmental cleaning of our hospitals is very important.

Prevention and treatment

Please see Clostridium difficule: Prevention and treatment.

Further information

Please see NHS website: Clostridium difficile