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Clostridium difficile fact sheet

Clostridium difficile

Clostridium difficile is a bacteria (germ) that is commonly found in the human intestines (“digestive tract” or “gut”) but does not usually cause infection or disease.

How does Clostridium difficile cause infection?

Antibiotics are the most common reason why these germs cause infection. When antibiotics are taken for a particular infection, they kill both the germs causing that infection, as well as the harmless germs that live in your digestive tract. If these other harmless germs are killed, this allows the Clostridium difficile germ to multiply to larger numbers than it would normally. The germs also start to produce toxins (poisons), which cause the symptoms of Clostridium difficile infection.

How do you get Clostridium difficile infection?

People in good health usually don’t get Clostridium difficile infections. You may get Clostridium difficile infection by eating the germs through contact with something contaminated with the germ. Clostridium difficile germs make spores that can live outside the human body for a very long time (around five months) and may be found on things in the hospital such as bed linen, bed rails, bathroom fixtures and medical equipment. The spores can be destroyed by thorough cleaning and hand washing.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Watery diarrhoea.
  • Fever.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea (feeling sick).
  • Abdominal pain and/or tenderness.

Not all patients who have this germ will have symptoms.

How can you prevent the spread of Clostridium difficile?

If your child has Clostridium difficile infection, there are a few things you can do to stop it spreading to other patients or family members/visitors:

  • You child may be in a single room or sharing with someone with the same infection. Please ensure that your child remains in the room, and if you need to leave the room, please discuss this with your nurse.
  • When washing your hands use soap/antiseptic and water. The alcohol-based rubs can be used in addition to soap/water but not instead of.
  • Always wash your hands before entering and leaving the room.
  • When looking after your child (toileting, nappy changes, bathing, feeding etc) always wash your hands and make sure you are not touching your face.
  • Make sure your child takes any prescribed antibiotics for the whole course.
  • Commonly touched and shared items may be a source of these germs. Hand hygiene will help to prevent transmission.
  • If possible, negotiate with your nurse to leave the ward to get some fresh air regularly.
  • When going out for fresh air, do not mix in a crowded area as there may be some children around who could pick up the infection easily.
  • If you are unsure of anything, ask your nurse.

When should I clean my hands?

You and your child should always clean hands:

  • Before handling anything that goes in your mouth or your child’s mouth.
  • Before preparing or eating food or drinks.
  • After going to the toilet or changing nappies.
  • After using a tissue or handkerchief.
  • After handling rubbish.
  • After handling dirty washing.
  • Before leaving the patient room.

What should I do when my child is back home?

Once your child is home there is no special care needed but it is important to:

  • Finish your course of antibiotics.
  • Continue with good hand washing.

When can my child return to school, kindergarten or day care?

Children with Clostridium difficile infections should not go to child care or school for a minimum of 48 hours after diarrhoea or vomiting stops.

Contact us

Infection Management and Prevention Service
Queensland Children’s Hospital
501 Stanley Street, South Brisbane 4101
t: 07 3068 4145 (nurses) | 07 3068 1558 (administration)

In an emergency, always call 000.

If it’s not an emergency but you have any concerns, contact 13 Health (13 43 2584). Qualified staff will give you advice on who to talk to and how quickly you should do it. You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Resource No: FS145. Developed by the Infection Management and Prevention Service. Updated: November 2015. All information contained in this sheet has been supplied by qualified professionals as a guideline for care only. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.