Clostridium difficile ( C. diff) is a bacterium related to those that cause tetanus and botulism. C. diff bacteria has two forms, an active, infectious form that cannot survive in the environment for prolonged periods, and a non-active, “non-infectious” form called a spore, that can survive in the environment for prolonged periods. Although spores cannot cause infection directly, when ingested they transform into the active, infectious form.
C. diff spores are frequently found in hospitals, nursing homes, extended care facilities, and nurseries for newborn infants. They can be found on bedpans, furniture, toilet seats, linens, telephones, stethoscopes, fingernails, rings, floors, infants’ rooms, remote controls and diaper pails. In an intensive care unit, you can safely assume that C. diff spores can be found on anything that has not been sterilized or cleaned with the appropriate high-level disinfectant.
Active, infectious C. diff produces toxins that are harmful to humans. C. diff is associated with a spectrum of diseases ranging from asymptomatic colonization to severe diarrhea, colitis (inflammation of the colon), toxic megacolon (a life-threatening complication of C. diff other intestinal conditions that causes rapid dilation of the large intestine within 1 to a few days), sepsis and death.