How Long Is C. Diff Contagious For?
Is C. diff contagious? Not in the normal sense where you can get it from someone with an active C. difficile infection. You have to consume C. diff spores and have compromised gut flora. C. diff is most often associated with antibiotic usage because antibiotics wipe out existing gut flora. However, C. diff can occur in 5-10 percent of patients without usage.2
How does C. Diff Spread?
If C. diff is contagious, how does it spread? You can become colonized by C. diff by consuming C. diff spores, which are spread through contact with fecal matter or contact with a contaminated object, including phones, door handles, and keyboards.
So how long is C. diff contagious? C. diff spores are extremely resilient and cannot be killed by using alcohol rubs. Bleach solutions can be used to disinfect C. diff spores. C. diff spores can survive for up to 5 months.3
A person usually gets a C. diff infection after taking antibiotics. How?
Many healthy people have C diff in their digestive tract. However, after taking antibiotics, C diff can multiply and cause problems. Antibiotics do not discriminate between good and bad bacteria, killing off a lot of the normal gut flora that kept Clostridium difficile bacteria in check. When the antibiotics kill off the good bacteria, C diff can multiply and take over the gut, which lead to many health problems.
Once established in the gut, C. diff can secrete toxins that wear down the intestinal lining. As these toxins destroy healthy cells, they leave patches of inflammatory cells, known as plaques, along with cellular debris within the large intestine, resulting in inflammation, diarrhea, and other symptoms.4
The antibiotics that may most commonly result in C. diff infections include:
A more aggressive strain of C. diff has emerged since 2000. This new strain produces more toxins and may be resistant to common antibiotics. It has even appeared in those who have not been to the hospital or taken antibiotics.4
Although C. diff is contagious, the good news is that even if the C. diff bacteria colonize your gut, they have to increase rapidly in order to actually cause any symptoms or problems. Generally, as long as your immune system is functioning properly and you do not take any antibiotics, your body should be able to fight off C. diff and prevent a full-on infection.
However, people who have a harder time resisting the bacteria include:
- Those with chronic diseases that weaken the immune system
- The elderly
- Individuals who have been hospitalized
C. diff spreads particularly well in nursing homes, which often have the highest concentrations of the bacteria because of the large number of patients treated with antibiotics.
Some other common risk factors for recurring C. diff infections include:
- Using antibiotics for non-C. diff infections
- Proton-pump inhibitors
- Medications that prevent secretion of gastric acids
- Severe underlying illnesses1
How Long Does it Take to Recover from C. diff?
Treatments with antibiotics usually take about 10 to 14 days, though severe infections with C. diff may require intravenous antibiotics or surgery if it has progressed to toxic megacolon to remove the infected part of the colon. Usually, a person is considered not contagious once all of their symptoms have subsided and doctors can detect little or no toxin in the patient’s stools. It can be hard to say for sure when C. diff becomes completely non-contagious, as someone who has been previously infected can have reoccurring C. diff. About 25 percent of patients treated for C. diff have a reoccurrence within 30 days.
Patients require a systemic antibody, anti-toxin regimen to prevent recurring C. diff.1 Recurrent cases of C. diff may require further courses of antibiotics, though the effectiveness of antibiotic therapy will subside with each subsequent recurrence. A doctor may also suggest a fecal microbiota transplant. This is an experimental alternative strategy that involves placing a donor’s stool into your large intestine via a colonoscope or nasogastric tube, which may help to restore gut bacteria to healthy levels. This procedure still requires further study, though initial trials suggest that fecal microbiota transplants performed once or twice results in a success rate of at least 85 percent.4
To help with recovery, consider taking probiotics with antibiotics. Probiotics are good bacteria that make up the normal gut flora.
Furthermore, probiotics containing S. boulardii such as Nexabiotic® Advanced can help lower chances of C. diff reoccurrence. In a meta-review, researchers evaluated studies investigating the use and effectiveness of S. boulardii in preventing C. diff. The researchers identified four studies that suggest S. boulardii may be effective in preventing recurring C. diff infections, particularly when used concurrently with antibiotics.5 Studies in rodents suggest that S. boulardii releases a protease that actually digests toxins produced by C. diff. These studies suggest the potential of S. boulardii protease to effectively attenuate the effects of C. diff toxins in the human colon.6
How to Avoid Spreading C. difficile:
- Probiotics: Ask your doctor if it is okay to take probiotics with your antibiotics. Taking probiotics will reduce the chances of C diff reoccurrence. Take a reputable, high-quality multi-probiotic with a variety of strains. Ensure that it has the probiotic S. boulardii.
- Test: If you have severe diarrhea and recently took antibiotics, consult with your physician to get tested.
- Isolate: Patients with C. difficile should be put on isolation precautions to prevent the spread of infection.
- Protect: Wear proper personal protective equipment such as gloves around patients with C. difficile. If you are in contact with a patient with C. difficile, you may be contaminated with spores on your clothes and other belongings. Therefore, personal items should be put into a plastic bag while in the room. Before leaving the room, remember to wash your hands thoroughly to prevent spreading the bacteria. Remember that hand sanitizer doesn't kill C. difficile.
- Wash: Handwashing cannot be stressed enough. Patients and health care workers should thoroughly wash their hands using soap and warm water. Any visitors should also wash their hands in soap and warm water before entering the room and after leaving, as well as whenever they use the restroom.
- Decontaminate: C. diff spores can persist in a room for several weeks or months. Disinfect C. difficile patient room and bathroom surfaces with bleach. C. diff spores can survive exposure to most common cleaning products that do not contain bleach.
So, how long is C. diff contagious? That ultimately depends on how long you have a C. diff infection, but C. diff is known to survive on surfaces for up to five months. Contact with contaminated surfaces may result in you unknowingly ingesting C. diff spores. Make sure you wash your hands, especially before meals, and consider incorporating a probiotic supplement, like DrFormulas® Nexabiotic® Advanced, into your diet to maintain a balanced gut that may prevent C. diff overgrowth.
Next article: The Best Diet for a Faster Recovery from C diff
- David A. Burns, John T. Heap, Nigel P. Minton. “Clostridium difficile spore germination: an update”. Research in Microbiology. Volume 161, Issue 9. 2010. 730–734.