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Health & Wellness

When is it More Than a Stomach Bug? Understanding C. diff

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Imagine waking up every day with a paralyzing fear of leaving your house – not because of what lies on the other side of the door, but the fear of the unknown looming within your own body. Your mind races with thoughts like:

Just getting ready for work in the morning without needing to go to the bathroom is impossible. How am I going to make it through a busy day of meetings?

There is no food in my house, but I don’t think I can spend an hour in the grocery store without needing a bathroom.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen my grandbaby, but I don’t want to get him sick. 

These agonizing worries may be the tip of the iceberg if you have a Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection.

C. diff is a naturally occurring bacteria in the environment that can make its way into your body.1 Anyone can have C. diff bacteria in their gut and stay healthy, but certain people are more likely to develop an infection, including older adults. In fact, nearly two-thirds of all C. diff infections happen in individuals over 65 years of age.2 Other risk factors include recently taking antibiotics or being treated for other existing health conditions.3

Since one of the main symptoms of a C. diff infection is diarrhea1, but so many people without a C. diff infection experience diarrhea too, it’s important to understand the different types:

  • Non-infectious diarrhea is often caused by other medical issues like irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease and even lactose intolerance, or by issues like food contamination.4,5 Diarrhea caused by these conditions cannot be passed from one person to another.
  • Infectious diarrhea can be caused by a variety of different viruses, bacteria and parasites, all of which can spread by physical contact with an infected person or surface. C. diff is the most common cause of infectious diarrhea in hospitals, and an increasing concern in the general community, too. It can account for up to 40 percent of antibiotic-associated diarrheas.4,5

If you get a C. diff infection once, it’s likely that it will come back. Up to 25 percent of first-time patients experience a recurrence, and up to 65 percent of those who had an initial recurrence will experience multiple recurrences.6,7

The unpredictability of the infection – in terms of both symptoms and recurrence – can result in an agonizing, isolating experience that can take both physical and emotional tolls on your life. Here’s what you can to help protect your health:

  1. Wash your hands. You can help prevent an infection by cleaning your hands with soap and water frequently, especially after using the bathroom or before eating.1 This is particularly important if you’re living with or have recently spent time with someone who has a C. diff infection.
  2. Learn about antibiotics. Taking antibiotics may increase your chance of developing a C. diff infection.3 Talk to your doctor about how your antibiotics could impact you, any alternative treatment options that may be available, and if necessary, reassessing the amount of antibiotics you take and why, which may help lower your risk. 
  3. Don’t ignore symptoms. You may think it’s a bug that will pass quickly, or maybe even a case of food poisoning, but don’t ignore your symptoms for too long. Visit your doctor if you are experiencing fever, loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea and/or abdominal pain. 8 Certain cases of a C. diff infection can also lead to severe colon inflammation, tears in the gastrointestinal tract and even death. Better safe than sorry.
  4. Learn to cope with emotional stress. The symptoms of infection are unpredictable and can occur at any time, making you feel isolated, embarrassed and anxious.9,10 You may find yourself spending less time with others and avoid leaving your house by cancelling plans, spending less time with your family and friends and potentially missing work.
    • Talking with family and friends and joining support groups to connect with other patients can help manage both the physical and emotional effects of a C. diff infection.

If you are diagnosed with a C. diff infection, there are resources available online that can help you and your loved ones learn more about this serious, agonizing and isolating infection. Take a look at this article and video from The Daily Beast and share with others. The C. Diff Foundation and the Peggy Lillis Foundation are also resources for additional information*.

* The C. Diff Foundation and the Peggy Lillis Foundation are independent organizations and Pfizer is not responsible for the content of these websites.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FAQs about “Clostridium Difficile.”
  2. Association for Professionals in Infection Control & Epidemiology. Guide to the elimination of Clostridium difficile in healthcare settings 2008.
  3. Bauer MP et al. Lancet. 2011;377:63-73.
  4. McFarland LV. Evidence-based review of probiotics for antibiotic-associated diarrhea and Clostridium difficile infections. Anaerobe. 2009;15:274–280.
  5. Dubberke ER, Wertheimer AI. Review of current literature on the economic burden of Clostridium difficile infection. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2009;30:57–66.


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