As many as a thousand microorganism species live in the human digestive tract. Under ordinary circumstances, the majority of them are harmless, and even helpful. But if something happens to upset the organisms’ balance, certain otherwise harmless bacteria can get out of control and you’ll get sick. The bacterium named Clostridium difficile—C. difficile or C. diff— is one of the worst of these. As these multiply, they give off toxins that attack the intestinal lining. This brings on a condition known as Clostridium difficile colitis.
How Long Is C. Diff Incubation Period?
The exact length of the C. diff incubation period is not known, but it’s generally fewer than seven days.
The majority of people who are carriers of C. diff never develop an active infection. An infection rarely flares up even if the C. diff has lodged in the gut. Many other friendly bacteria are there to hold it in check. Many times taking antibiotics will bring on a C. diff outbreak. This happens because the antibiotic kills off the good bacteria, which then allows the C. diff to flourish. The use of a proton-pump inhibitor for acid reflux can also trigger an outbreak of C. diff.
Is C. Diff Contagious During Incubation Period?
Most certainly it is contagious during the C. diff incubation period. It is spread from one person to another by touch. It is spread by touching contaminated things, such as cell phones, clothes, or door handles. People can be carriers without ever becoming sick, however, they can still spread the infection to other people.
Although the bacteria can be passed from one person to another, they may not cause immediate infection. Only when conditions favor the organisms’ growth can disease occur. Some of these conditions include a weak immune system, old age (65 or older), and people in the hospital who are being treated with antibiotics that suppress the normal flora in the bowel. Other C. diff risk factors are gastrointestinal tract surgery, chemotherapy drugs, colon diseases like colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease, kidney disease, use of a proton-pump inhibitor, or having had a C. diff infection previously. To reduce the chances of becoming infected, avoid physical contact, either direct or indirect, with contaminated areas.
How Is C. Diff Transmitted?
C. diff spores are transmitted in several ways. They leave the body in the feces, enabling them to be transmitted by the fecal/oral path. They are also thought to be spread through the soil, pets, meats, vegetables, and even water. Hospitals, clinics, or medical offices are often reservoirs for C. diff. They can survive for months or even years on nearly any surface, which makes them difficult to destroy. C. diff bacteria can survive in many extreme environments, such as ultraviolet light, antibiotics, high temperatures, and harsh chemicals.
What Are the Symptoms of C. Diff Infection?
Mild to Moderate Infection
Symptoms of mild to moderate C. diff infection that are the most common are watery diarrhea three or more times per day for two days or more, as well as mild abdominal cramps and tenderness.
C. difficile causes colitis (inflammation of the colon) or pseudomembranous colitis, in which patches of raw tissue that bleeds or generates pus is formed. In severe cases, the person may become dehydrated and need to go to the hospital. Some of the symptoms of a severe infection may include watery diarrhea ten to fifteen times per day, fever, nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, blood or pus in the stool, abdominal cramps and pain, swollen abdomen, elevated white blood cell count, dehydration, or kidney failure.
When to See a Doctor
If you are taking, or have just finished taking, a routine of antibiotics and develop loose stools, a C. difficile infection could be the culprit. If you experience three or more episodes of diarrhea each day for two or more days, or if you have severe cramps or abdominal pain, blood in your stool, or a new fever, go see your doctor.
How to Treat C. Diff Infection
1. Home Remedies
Probiotics: Probiotics are good bacteria that colonize in the intestinal tract and are available without prescription in most health food and drug stores. If you take them along with your prescribed medication, they may help to keep the C. diff infection from flaring up again. More research is needed, however, to verify this.
Fluids: The dehydration that often accompanies diarrhea caused by C. diff can be combated by drinking plenty of water and other liquids, or by taking fluids intravenously.
Metronidazole (Flagyl), vancomycin (Vancocin), or fidaxomicin (Dificid) is typically prescribed by doctors. Prescriptions are for a ten- to fourteen-day course of one of these oral antibiotics. Flagyl is usually the first one tried, with signs of improvement showing within seventy-two hours after beginning the antibiotics. However, diarrhea may temporarily recur. Only about twenty-five percent of people need a second round of antibiotics.
3. Fecal Transplants
Some other treatments that are being researched for severe C. difficile infections include treating with monoclonal antibodies, and fecal transplants. Fecal transplants—the transplanting of a healthy person’s stool to the colon of a person with recurring C. diff infections—has proven to successfully treat C. diff. They appear to be the best method to effectively treat patients that suffer from repeat C. diff infections. The long-term safety of fecal transplants hasn’t been established, and the procedure may not be widely available.
Tips to Prevent C Diff Infection
Once you’ve had a C. difficile infection, it can spread to other people even during C. Diff incubation period. C. Diff spores are evacuated in the feces. They can live a long time on dry surfaces. Anyone who touches a contaminated surface can pick up the infection. However, you can prevent infection by practicing good, strict hygiene. This is especially crucial if you are going to a health care facility, or in contact with an infected person. To keep yourself and others safe from C. diff infections, follow these suggestions:
• Wash your hands often with hot water and soap.
• Clean your kitchen and bathroom(s) often with products that contain chlorine bleach.
• Launder your clothing in chlorine bleach and detergent.
• Wash your hands before and after you visit someone in a healthcare facility. If you use a restroom there, wash your hands diligently in hot water and soap.
• Don’t take antibiotics unnecessarily unless recommended by your doctor.