How do we prevent general laundry contamination from my dad's C. Difficile infection?

Tater asked...

My Dad (age 93) is a chronic carrier of C. Difficile, and has been treated with oral vancomycin and prescription oral probiotic capsules. Now that he is home, I am concerned about my Mom and his caregivers being "protected" from contamination. They are wearing nitrile gloves during contact with his skin and his dishes, clothes, and linens, but we are not sure how to launder his clothes to prevent the infection from contaminating the washing machine and other clothing/linens that are also washed in the same washing machine and dryer. Is there a particular water temperature and/or laundry detergent publicly available that we can use in the home? And what should we use for cleaning surfaces and carpets? Thank you for your assistance.

Expert Answer

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

Clostridium difficile, often called C. diff, is just one of the many bacteria that resides in the human gut. For most people, it lives inside of us, causing us no problems, because we are healthy. We have many other bacteria live inside of us that compete with it and keep infection away.

When someone is really ill gets prolonged strong antibiotics, this kills all the other bacteria in our guts, leaving C. diff to take over. The result is an overgrowth, leading to profuse diarrhea, which can develop into inflammation of the colon if not properly treated.

You are worried about protecting yourself, your mother, and caregivers from your dad's infection. Remember C. diff is found in feces. This to pass it around, you have to touch items or surfaces that are contaminated with feces, and then touch your mouth or mucous membranes. You do not mention if your dad is incontinent of stool or soiling on the carpets, floors, or in his bed. I will assume that he is, so I would recommend:

1) His caregivers should wash their hands after every contact with him. 2) They should wear gloves when coming in contact with any of his body fluids (this is called standard precautions). 3) If his clothes or linens are soiled, they should be washed in hot water using bleach, which will kill all of the C. diff germs. If these items are not soiled with feces, normal laundering is all that is required. 4) Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are not effective for killing C.diff, so do not use them. 5) As for cleaning carpets, you will have to check the information available on the cleaning products. You may even want to call the company for more information. 6) Clean all contaminated surfaces like toilets, utensils and fixtures (wearing rubber gloves) using a bleach cleaning solution or household disinfectant.
7) When preparing food, you should always wash your hands frequently.

Hope that this helps. As someone who works with people who frequently get C. diff, please rest assured that as long as you follow these guidelines, you should be fine. I would recommend looking at the CDC website for more information. Good luck!