The Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge in southern Alberta is experiencing an outbreak of Clostridium difficile infection (CDI), according to health officials.

C. difficile is a serious gastrointestinal illness — which causes infectious diarrhea — often caused by overuse of antibiotics.

Symptoms range from high fever to abdominal pain to dehydration.

Confirmed cases of CDI have forced Alberta Health Services to close Unit 4C to new patients and it is limiting visitors to the unit.

"Our first priority is to care for the patients in this unit and prevent the spread of infection to other patients," says Dr. Vivien Suttorp, AHS south zone medical officer of health, in a release.

AHS is also limiting staff access to the unit to only essential medical and support staff.

The bacteria can survive for long periods of time on surfaces. AHS says it is conducting extra cleaning of rooms and equipment on the unit. 

"Person-to-person spread of CDI can occur from contact with feces or contaminated materials," said Suttorp. "Good handwashing is crucial to limit the spread of this infection. Using soap and running water for at least 20 seconds is the most effective way."

Suttorp says the risk to public is low, because healthy people are not normally susceptible to acquiring CDI from another person.