Clostridium difficile Infection

How often do patients get Clostridium difficile infection while in hospital?

July to September 2021 data

* Canadian Nosocomial Infection Surveillance Program

How is this measured?

Infection prevention and control professionals look for new cases of healthcare-associated C. difficile infection that occur in the hospital and calculate the infection rate using the following:

# of new cases of C. difficile infection associated with the reporting facility X 10,000 = Rate per 10,000 patient days
# of patient days

What is Clostridium difficile (C. difficile)?

C. difficile is a bacterium (germ). It can live in the bowel without causing harm, or it can cause an infection (diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain). Taking antibiotics is the biggest risk factor for getting a C. difficile. Normally, "good" bacteria in the bowel help keep C. difficile in check. When antibiotics are used to treat other infections, they can kill the "good" bacteria in the bowel as well as the "bad" bacteria. Without "good" bacteria keeping it in check, C. difficile grows in numbers and can cause a C. difficile infection. The older you are, the greater your risk of getting a C. difficile infection after you take antibiotics.

How is C. difficile infection spread?

C. difficile can be spread from an infected person to other people through direct contact or from contact with surfaces that have become contaminated with C. difficile. The bacteria can live a long time in the environment which makes it easy to spread. Careful cleaning of the patient's environment and of equipment used with patients (such as blood pressure cuffs, thermometers), cleaning your hands, and the proper use of antibiotics can help reduce the spread of the infection. Proper use of antibiotics means taking them correctly for the time they are prescribed and not taking them when they are not needed (e.g. not taking them for colds or other viral infections).

Why is this important?

Reporting C. difficile infection rates helps us to know how likely it is that a patient will get this infection while in hospital. It also allows us to monitor how well our efforts to prevent and limit the spread of C. difficile infection are working.

What should the rate of C. difficile infection be?

It would be best to have no infections, however, it is not possible to prevent all illness caused by C. difficile. C. difficile infection rates can vary from hospital to hospital and from month to month. Rates may be different based on the types of hospitals, the care they provide and the patients they serve. The rates provided here are not meant for hospitals to compare themselves against each other, or for the public to use to decide where they should get health care.

A benchmark provides a standard rate or "average" of infection. We can use this benchmark to see if our rates are above or below this average. The Canadian Nosocomial Infection Surveillance Program national benchmark is 5.10.

What can I do to help?

  • Talk to your doctor about your illness and whether or not you need an antibiotic to treat it. Don't expect to need an antibiotic for every infection. Most infections are caused by viruses that are not helped at all by antibiotics.
  • Take all your medication as prescribed by your doctor. It is important to finish taking antibiotics when prescribed, even if you are feeling better.
  • Contact your doctor right away if you develop diarrhea after taking an antibiotic.
  • Clean your hands with soap and water often, after you use the toilet, before you eat, and when your hands are soiled.

2013-2015 Trending data

View previously released C. difficile data from January 2013 – March 2015 (PDF).

Protocol

Read the Protocol for Healthcare-associated Clostridium difficile Infection Surveillance in Nova Scotia