Five elderly hospital patients have died at a British hospital after contracting a bacterium that causes diarrhea, health officials said Friday.

A total of 130 people have contracted Clostridium difficile at Maidstone Hospital south of London since April, the hospital said.

The hospital said the Kent Health Protection Agency is helping it to improve its infection control procedures to combat the bacterium, Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, which can also cause colitis and other intestinal problems.

"The hospital has taken every precaution and action necessary to ensure that this infection is contained," said Bernard Place, director of Infection, Prevention and Control at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells National Health Service Trust, which runs MaidstoneHospital.

"This is part of a national picture of a rise in C. diff infections. We have been working closely with the Health Protection Agency throughout and have stringent monitoring procedures in place."

Elderly people are most at risk from the infection, which occurs when changes happen to the normal flora present in the gut, allowing C. diff to flourish and produce a toxin which produces diarrhea.

The bacterium is highly infectious because it forms spores which are able to survive for long periods in the environment.

A spokesman for the truct said action taken to contain the outbreak included isolating unwell patients.

Relatives of those infected have received leaflets advising them on preventative measures, such as stringent hand washing.

The trust has also introduced extra cleaners and nurses on affected wards and asked family doctors not to send patients with diarrhea to hospital, measures which will continue until the outbreak ends.