Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) is a bacterium that’s found in people’s intestines. It can be found in healthy people, where it causes no symptoms (up to 3% of adults and 66% of babies).
C. difficile causes disease when the normal bacteria in the gut are disadvantaged, usually by someone taking antibiotics. This allows C. difficile to grow to unusually high levels. It also allows the toxin that some strains of C. difficile produce to reach levels where it attacks the intestines and causes mild to severe diarrhoea.
C. difficile can lead to more serious infections of the intestines with severe inflammation of the bowel (pseudomembranous colitis). C. difficile is the biggest cause of infectious diarrhoea in hospitalised patients.
You can become infected with C. difficile if you ingest the bacterium (through contact with a contaminated environment or person). People who become infected with C. difficile are usually those who’ve taken antibiotics, particularly the elderly and people whose immune systems are compromised.
PHE has carried out mandatory enhanced surveillance of C. difficile infection since April 2007 for NHS acute trusts; patient-level data of any C. difficile infections are reported monthly to PHE. Independent sector (IS) healthcare organisations providing regulated activities also undertake surveillance of C. difficile infection.
We produce Healthcare associated infections (HCAI) mandatory surveillance statistics publications in accordance with the code of practice for official statistics and they are designated as National Statistics. The data-specific documents below describe our compliance with aspects of the Code.