A deadly new infection is ripping its way through the senior circuit... and in many cases, it's resistant to drugs.

It's caused by the bacteria Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile for short. We all have this bacteria in us... and in most cases, it won't harm a healthy person. Other bacteria – the healthy "gut flora" we all have – stop C. difficile from growing to the point where it might hurt you.

But throw some antibiotics into the mix, and all bets are off.

These meds are the nuclear option for your stomach: They kill everything, good and bad bacteria alike. But just like cockroaches are said to survive nuclear destruction, C. difficile can live through that antibiotic carpet-bomb.

In fact, it can thrive in this environment because without the rest of the gut flora around to keep it in check, C. difficile takes control.

And you get sick.

If you've been in a hospital or nursing home recently, or if you've been on antibiotics anywhere, watch for watery diarrhea. That's usually the first sign. Go three or more times a day for two or more days, and you'll want to see a doctor ASAP.

C. difficile infections can also cause fever, nausea, vomiting, chills, cramps, abdominal tenderness and loss of appetite.

Don't wait until it's too late – this powerful bacteria is difficult to treat and kills 5,000 Americans each year.

Until recently, the worst of these infections hit people staying in hospitals and nursing homes, where drug- resistant bacteria have been on the rise for years. But now, scientists are worried by the large number of cases they're seeing outside of these facilities.

People inside hospitals have a higher risk in their 60s and 70s, while the median age of those who get it outside of hospitals is 50, according to a recent presentation at the American College of Gastroenterology annual meeting in San Diego.

This bacteria is largely spread through feces – but you don't have to touch a toilet to get it. Because it creates spores and can live on surfaces for months at a time, all it takes is one contaminated person who touches a countertop, doorknob, elevator button... you get the idea.

Then you come along and touch one of these surfaces, and it's on your own hands. Wipe your mouth, eat, rub your eyes – and now it's inside you.

This frightening disease highlights two issues I've recently written to you about: our overuse of antibiotics and our underuse of soap when we (and our doctors) wash our hands.

We need to start paying better attention to both – lives are at stake.