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C. Diff (Clostridioides Difficile) Infection in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What do I need to know about a C. diff infection (CDI)?

Clostridioides difficile, Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, is a bacterium that causes diarrhea, irritation, and swelling of your child's colon. Antibiotic use is the most common cause of CDI.

How do C. diff spread?

The bowel movement of a person with a CDI contains C. diff. Infected people who do not wash their hands properly after having a bowel movement can spread C. diff. The bacteria can live a long time on surfaces your child touches, such as the tops of tables.

What increases my child's risk for a CDI?

  • Antibiotic use
  • A hospital stay, or sharing a room with an infected person
  • A weak immune system
  • A new infection from inactive C. diff bacteria left in your child's body from a past infection

What are the signs and symptoms of a CDI?

  • Diarrhea several times each day
  • Foul-smelling diarrhea
  • Blood, mucus, or pus in your child's bowel movements
  • Dehydration from diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Cramps in your child's abdomen
  • A fever

How is a CDI diagnosed and treated?

A CDI infection is usually not diagnosed in babies younger than 1 year. Young babies are often C. diff carriers. This means a high number of the bacteria live in the intestines without causing infection. A sample of your older child's bowel movement may be sent to a lab to be tested for C. diff. The goal of treatment is to restore the healthy balance of bacteria in your child's colon. This should help stop the diarrhea. Antibiotics help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria. If antibiotics caused the CDI, your child may need to switch to a different antibiotic.

How can I help my child manage or prevent a CDI?

  • Have your child wash his or her hands often. He or she should wash after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating food. Have your child use soap and water. Show him or her how to rub soapy hands together, lacing the fingers. Wash the front and back of the hands, and in between the fingers. The fingers of one hand can scrub under the fingernails of the other hand. Teach your child to wash for at least 20 seconds. Use a timer, or sing a song that is at least 20 seconds. An example is the happy birthday song 2 times. Have your child rinse with warm, running water for several seconds. Then dry with a clean towel or paper towel. Your older child can use hand sanitizer that contains alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Clean surfaces and objects often. Clean doorknobs, countertops, cell phones, and other surfaces that are touched often. Use a disinfecting wipe, a single-use sponge, or a cloth you can wash and reuse. Use disinfecting cleaners if you do not have wipes. You can create a disinfecting cleaner by mixing 1 part bleach with 10 parts water. Clean your child's toys and pacifiers often in warm, soapy water.
  • Prevent the spread of C. diff. Do not let your child share any items with others. This includes toys, clothing, and dishes. Use as many disposable items as you can, such as paper plates. Do this until your child's diarrhea has stopped.
  • Ask about probiotics. Probiotics are also called good bacteria. They can help protect your child from harmful bacteria. If your child develops more than one CDI, probiotics may help prevent more infections. Ask your child's healthcare provider if probiotics are right for your child. He or she may be able to eat yogurt or other foods high in probiotics. Your child's provider may instead recommend a pill or liquid form.
  • Have your child drink more liquids to prevent dehydration. Your child may also drink an oral rehydration solution (ORS). An ORS has the right amounts of water, salts, and sugar needed to replace body fluids. Ask your child's healthcare provider where to get an ORS and how much he or she should drink.

What do I need to know about correct antibiotic use?

  • Give your child his or her antibiotic as directed. Do not skip a dose of your child's antibiotic. Do not stop giving your child the antibiotic, even if he or she feels better. Give your child the entire dose of antibiotic unless a healthcare provider tells you to stop.
  • Get rid of any antibiotics your child did not use. Ask your child's healthcare provider or pharmacist how to get rid of the antibiotics. Do not share your child's antibiotic with another person. Do not give your child an antibiotic from another illness without talking to a healthcare provider.
  • Prevent infections caused by bacteria. This will help prevent your child's need for an antibiotic. Ask about vaccines that your child needs. Wash your hands and your child's hands frequently to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Ask your child's healthcare provider how to manage his or her symptoms without antibiotics. Your child's healthcare provider can recommend other treatments based on your child's illness. An example includes over-the-counter medicines such as acetaminophen.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • Your child has a fever and stomach cramps that get worse, or do not go away.
  • Your child's abdomen is hard or feels swollen.
  • Your child has black or bright red bowel movements.
  • Your child vomits blood.
  • Your child is short of breath or feels like he or she is going to faint.
  • Your child has any of the following signs of dehydration:
    • Dizziness, weakness, or extreme sleepiness
    • Dry mouth, cracked lips, or feeling very thirsty
    • Fast heartbeat or rapid breathing
    • Very little urine or no urine
    • Sunken eyes
    • Fussiness or sunken fontanelles (soft spots) in babies

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child's signs and symptoms come back after treatment.
  • Your child cannot eat or drink.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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