C. difficile is one of many bacteria living in the air, water, and soil. And from there, it is often swallowed into the human gut. This is no problem when other, "good" bacteria outnumber it. But when this germ dominates, it becomes toxic. Even deadly.
C. difficile infections are on the rise, especially among elders. Risk is highest among people:
- age 65 or older and female. Advanced age increases risk tenfold.
- on antibiotics in the past 30 days. These drugs typically wipe out good bacteria, allowing other bacteria to thrive.
- with a weakened immune system. Chronic illness depletes the immune system. So does treatment for cancer.
- receiving treatment for heartburn. The drugs that cure heartburn decrease acid in the stomach, removing a key deterrent to bacteria growth.