10 Ways to Describe the C Diff Smell

Have you ever been asked to describe the c diff smell?

Being able to identify the C Diff smell is almost a right of passage in nursing. I’ve heard the C Diff smell described in so many ways. The most thing I’ve heard nurses says is “C diff smells sweet.” While it’s hard to imagine anyone describing the c diff smell as “sweet,” there is something distinct about it that could be described this way. In the below article, we’ll provide more information about Clostridium Difficile (C Diff), different ways people describe the C Diff smell, and even answer your questions about why some nurses can’t smell C Diff.

10 Ways to Describe the C Diff Smell

What is C Diff

Clostridium Difficile, or as we in the scrubs like to call it, C Diff, is the pesky bug that’s got both patients and infection control departments on high alert. Think of it as the uninvited guest at the hospital party, notorious for crashing the scene as a nosocomial infection – that’s fancy talk for an infection you pick up during your hospital stay. Here’s the sneaky part: C Diff is a master of stealth. It plays hide and seek in your gut until it’s ready to cause trouble, often leading to a tricky game of catch-up for detection.

Now, here’s where nurses come into play – consider them the detectives of the healthcare world. They’ve got a keen eye for the signs of this bacterial bandit, and they jump into action faster than you can say “infection control.” Nurses are on the frontline, folks, playing a critical role in catching C Diff before it becomes a game of dominoes with patient health. With their swift moves in identifying and isolating the culprits, they’re the unsung heroes in this battle, keeping C Diff from doing the cha-cha across the hospital wards. Remember, in healthcare, it’s not just about curing; it’s about preventing. And with C Diff, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Identifying C Diff by It’s Smell

Many nurses swear they can identify patients with C Diff by the smell of their stool alone. Research studies have even identified the volatile organic compounds that are unique to patients with C Diff, supporting this theory. Other studies have shown that nurses can accurately identify C Diff stools by odor in up to 84% sensitivity and 77% specificity. In controlled laboratory settings, however, where the nurses were blind to patient characteristics (presence of diarrhea, antibiotic use, etc.) these results were not replicated. This means that while a nurse’s prediction of a positive C Diff culture may be reliable, it is not based solely on smell alone.

One of the newest and more entertaining breakthroughs with C Diff detection is the advent of C Diff sniffing dogs. In one Dutch hospital, a two-year-old beagle was trained to smell C Diff and was found to be accurate in 265 out of 270 cases.

The unique scent of C Diff obviously exists and is quite specific to this particular infection. Many nursing students or new nurses are left wondering what that smell is so that they can try to identify it. While descriptions of the scent can help, nothing beats real-life experience!

Here are a few descriptions that experienced nurses have used to describe the unique odor of a C Diff infection.

What Does C Diff Smell Like?

Healthcare professionals often describe the scent of a C Diff infection as notably pungent and unpleasant. This distinctive odor, carrying a sickeningly sweet note different from typical diarrhea, may arise from the increased levels of bile acids present in the stool of those infected with C Diff, according to the CDC. Moreover, clinical observations have likened the smell of C Diff-infected stool to horse manure, especially when accompanied by symptoms like significant diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever, as noted on Wikipedia.

Though the strong smell can be an early warning signal, it’s not a standalone diagnostic criterion. It’s imperative to undergo proper testing to confirm a C Diff infection, ensuring timely management and containment to prevent further spread.

C Diff Smells Terrible

While not as descriptive, it is universally agreed upon that C Diff smells horrible.

  • “Absolutely terrible!! Normal feces are bad enough, but C Diff stools are simply revolting.”
  • “If you walk into a patient’s room after they go to the restroom, and you smell something that makes you want to hurl all the way into next week, then it is safe to suspect your patient has C Diff.”
  • “Can’t really do it justice. It’s very foul and loud, and once you have smelled it, you will never forget it.”

In short, the C Diff smell is terrible.

C Diff smells like a Barnyard

One of the other most common descriptions is the smell of manure or a barnyard.

  • “I call it that “barnyard” smell, like rotting manure.”
  • “A pig pen or decomposing bodies smell like Chanel No. 5 compared to C-Diff.”
  • “Earthy…almost like the smell of compost…but worse.”
  • “Nastiest piggy/sour chicken barnyard smell ever.”

C Diff smells Moldy

Often nurses state that C Diff smells slightly fermented or moldy.

  • “Moldy…like stale bread…tinged with a little skunk…and allowed to ferment.”

C Diff smells like an Outhouse

While bathrooms never smell good after a bowel movement, anyone who has ever used an outhouse knows that they have a particularly horrible stench. Many times, the smell of C Diff can be compared to the distinctive smell of an outhouse.

“It smells like using an outhouse or J-John during 3 months of 110+ degree temperature days. It does not smell like normal poop; it smells like something that has been dead and laying in the hot sun with just a slight tang of poop smell.”

C Diff Smells like Rotten Meat

Often C Diff is compared to the smell of meat that has gone off.

“To me, it is that rotten chicken meat smell (like when you smell that chicken and go…no way…can’t make this tonight!)”

“I think it smells like road kill on a 100-degree day mixed with silent but deadly flatus.”

“I think C Diff smells like a mixture of Texas road kill in the summer plus the dirty feather odor of the vultures that come to strip the edible parts from the rotting carcass.”

“It smells like something crawled up there and died…”

“I always think “rancid meat” when I smell C Diff.”

While rotten meat is often the most common “rotten” description, there are others. For example, some describe the smell of C Diff poop as smelling like rotten eggs. So if you’ve ever asked “Does c diff smell like rotten eggs,” the answer is yes. To some, C Diff smells like rotten eggs.

Some have even said that C Diff is diarrhea that smells like death. Death and rotten go together, so perhaps that is where that description comes from.

C Diff smells like a Swamp

Much like the earlier musty smell, C Diff is often described as smelling like a swamp

“C Diff to me smells swampy.”

C Diff Smells Sickly Sweet

Often C Diff is described as slightly sweet.

“It has almost a sickly-sweet smell…once you smell it, you will not forget.”

“C Diff smells sweet.”

Before I became a nurse, I never in my life thought I’d be discussing sweet smelling poop, but that’s exactly how some nurses describe the smell of C diff. Sweet smelling diarrhea are 3 words that you would never think would ever be placed together in a sentence, but if you’re a nurse you’ve likely heard it many times.

C Diff Smells Fishy

Some feel like C Diff has a slightly fishy odor.

“C Diff smells almost…fishy, there is a slight undertone of fishiness to it.”

“My poop smells like fish.”

Some nurses and nursing students have asked “Does c diff smell like fish?” The answer is yes. Some people describe the C Diff poop smell as smelling like fish. So if you ever have a patient that says “My poop smells like fish,” you might consider ruling out C Diff.

C Diff Smells like Baby Poop

Often nurses have likened it to the smell of baby poop.

“It smells like the sickly-sweet smell of babies diapers…but 100 times worse.”

Once again, the sweet smelling poop theme pops up again. If a patient says to you “My poop smells sweet,” C Diff may be the reason.

C Diff is a Smell that Sticks with You

One of the hallmark comments on the smell of C Diff is that it is a smell that seems to stick with you for the rest of the day and when you go home.

“I always feel like I still have that C Diff smell on me when I get home.”

“It seems to have the unique quality that if you ever empty a bedpan or wipe a bottom of someone that has it, you will smell like it for the rest of your shift, even though you wore gloves and washed your hands ten times.”

“The smell lingers for hours, days.”

Ah… the C Diff poop smell does tend to stick with you. Like a song you can’t get out of your head, I guess smells work that way too. It’s all neurons anyways.

Many Ways to Describe the C Diff Smell

With all these colorful and sometimes entertaining descriptions, one can imagine what C Diff smells like, and it can possibly help to identify an infection before waiting for lab results. While descriptions are never a replacement for experiencing it for yourself, it can help new nurses or nursing students to identify this unique and unmistakable scent.

Now you have many colorful examples to pick from the next time a new nurse or nursing student asks you “What does C Diff smell like?”

If we’ve missed one, please share how you describe the C Diff smell in the comments!

Physicians Explain When to Suspect Diarrhea is a Symptom of a Clostridium Difficile Infection

A transcript of this video can be found here.

Other C Diff Considerations

In addition to the unique smell of C Diff, it’s also highly contagious. Patients diagnosed with C Diff will often be in isolation rooms. If they are incontinent, cleaning up their poop needs to be handled with extreme care. Here is more information on how to clean up the poop for elderly patients.

Patients may also be highly embarrassed by their diagnosis, and it’s related diarrhea, so ensuring you speak compassionately to the patient can help them feel less shame.

Related articles:

Frequently Asked C Diff Smell Questions and Answers

What does C diff poop smell like?

C diff is often described as sickeningly sweet-smelling feces. However, there are many different descriptions for the smell of Clostridioides difficile poop.

How to describe the c diff smell and color?

We’ve given many examples of the C Diff smell, including that C Diff smells sweet. C diff looks like non-bloody small bowel diarrhea. Small bowel diarrhea is usually accompanied with generalized abdominal cramps is a large volume of diarrhea. C Diff is generally a large volume. There is no specific color for C Diff stool, as it will vary based on your diet.

What does c diff look like?

C Diff looks like large volume non-bloody small bowel diarrhea.

Does C diff always stink?

C. Diff diarrhea always has a strong odor. If you have c diff or take care of a patient with it, the smell will be very apparent.

What are the first signs of C diff?

According to the CDC, signs and symptoms of c diff include: Diarrhea including loose, watery stools (poop) or frequent bowel movements for several days, fever, stomach tenderness or pain, loss of appetite, and Nausea.

How contagious is C diff to a healthy person?

C diff is highly contagious and can be spread by direct contact with contaminated objects and surfaces. C diff is spread via the fecal-oral route, meaning they touch something that has the c diff bacteria on it and then their mouths. A good reminder to frequently was your hands.

Which antibiotics most commonly cause C diff?

C diff is frequently caused by antibiotics wiping out healthy gut flora allowing bad bacteria to take over. The antibiotics that commonly lead to c diff are clindamycin (for example, Cleocin),
fluoroquinolones (for example, levofloxacin [Levaquin], ciprofloxacin [Cipro, Cirpo XR, Proquin XR]),
penicillins, and. cephalosporins.

Why does my poop smell sweet?

C diff is often described as producing sweet smelling poop. If you’ve taken antibiotics recently or been exposed to someone with C. diff, you should speak with your primary care provider.

Why does my poop smell like skunk?

C diff has been described as producing poop that smells like skunk. You should speak with your primary care provider if your poop smells like skunk.

My poop smells sweet, is that a problem?

If your poop smell sweet, you may have c diff, which is a bacterial infection of the colon.

What is C Diff?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Clostridium difficile (klos-TRID-e-um dif-uh-SEEL), also known as Clostridioides difficile and often referred to as C. difficile or C. diff, is a bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon.”

Why can’t I detect the C Diff Smell?

Although the smell of sweet smelling poop is usually an indicator of c diff, it’s not always detectable by smell. A research study revealed that nurses were only able to positively identify c diff by smell about 45% of the time. This accuracy was not impacted by experience of the nurse of their confidence in their ability to smell c diff. Even if swear you can’t smell c diff, you might predict it just as accurately as a nurse claiming they are a c diff poop smelling pro.

Why does my poop smell like fish?

If you think your poop smells like fish, you should see your primary care provider. Though c diff can be described as smelling like a fish, there are other medical conditions that can be the cause. Regardless of the diagnosis, you’ll want to get checked out because poop that smells like fish should not be routine.

What does C-Diff Smell like?

9 thoughts on “10 Ways to Describe the C Diff Smell”

  1. I contracted c.diff from the dorms I live in at school (thanks to people not washing their hands) last spring. I took the antibiotics and then was diagnosed with it a SECOND time because my gut was bad to start with and am on the antibiotics for 4 months. I know the c.diff poop smells and I find ALL of those to be accurate….but there is one missing. Raw meat, not rotting meat, fresh raw beef/pork. It was horrifying when I figured it out (and am still hoping it’s from c.diff and not something new). 10/10 don’t recommend getting c.diff. It’s not fun.

  2. My question is: Does anything else smell like c diff? My dad had it, so I have smelled it before. I picked up a parasite in Uganda recently (cryptosporidium), and after being treated with nitazoxanide for about four days, I began smelling that c diff smell. I’m wondering if the dying parasite could have that horrid smell, or if the nitazoxanide triggered c diff in me. I have read that nitazoxanide is also a recommended treatment for c diff as well as cryptosporidium. I can’t see my doctor immediately. Not sure whether to discontinue nitazoxanide or continue.

    1. I am unable to find anything directly tying nitazoxanide to the causation of c-diff. Most information I am finding is actually the opposite, as you have referenced, as it’s sometimes used for treatment. Is it possible you picked up c diff while in Uganda and simply didn’t notice it coupled with the parasite and now that the parasite is being treated the c diff symptoms are becoming more prominent?

  3. I agree ? once you smell it, you will NEVER forget it! It smells like your compost has gone sour if that makes sense to anyone lol

  4. Sherry Ann Weinstein

    HI Brittney I really need your help. I have been a nurse for 18 years and never contracted a disease from a patient until 12/11/18.. I am a home care nurse and I see plenty of patients who have been released from a hospital, have been on numerous antibiotics, One of my patients we have been treated for over 2 years for a non healing stage 4 ulcer on her trochanter. She was diagnosed with mrsa however she does have bowel issues. her home stinks, I find feces on her bed, there have been a few times I offered to change her sheets and she has refused. I used her bathroom, but cleaned it with what ever she had in her bathroom to clean the toilet seat before I sat down. I am fighting with workers comp because the patient I thought I might have gotten it from does not have that diagnosis. However she has not seen a doc to be tested for it. do you have any information I can give my attorney as we are having a hearing on Feb 22. I was not on any antibiotics for over 1 and 1/2 years. PLease help me

  5. This is one of the areas where experience matters and if you also have a decent sense of smell. I can walk on a unit and smell c-diff. I have been a nurse for 30 years so I can smell out a lot of things. Pseudomonus has a distinct smell as well.
    It is funny that we are more likely to trust a dog than a nurse, but such is science

    1. Hmmm. I haven’t found the smell to be anything like rotting meat or any of the other quite colorful descriptions above. For me it’s this smell like very concentrated beef broth. Seriously I hate the smell because it means I’m ill and it does seems to linger in the house reminding me of this awful disease. It’s difficult to treat for sure. I’m going for my 2nd fecal transplant this week. It’s just awful.

      1. I am just wondering how you have done since your second fecal transplant? I had one about a week ago, I did 5 rounds of antibiotics for c diff before the fecal transplant. How did you do after the transplant the first time, did you notice any difference or did you still have the c diff symptoms?

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