Clostridia are motile bacteria that are ubiquitous in nature and are especially prevalent in soil. Under the microscope after Gram staining, they appear as long drumsticks with a bulge located at their terminal ends. Clostridium difficile cells are Gram positive and show optimum growth on blood agar at human body temperatures in the absence of oxygen. When stressed, the bacteria produce spores which tolerate extreme conditions that the active bacteria cannot tolerate.
First described by Hall and O'Toole in 1935, "the difficult clostridium" was resistant to early attempts at isolation and grew very slowly in culture.
C. difficile is a commensal bacterium of the human intestine in a minority of the population. Patients who have been staying long-term in a hospital or a nursing home have a higher likelihood of being colonized by this bacterium. In small numbers it does not result in disease of any significance. Antibiotics, especially those with a broad spectrum of activity, cause disruption of normal intestinal flora, leading to an overgrowth of C. difficile, which flourishes under these conditions. This leads to pseudomembranous colitis.
C. difficile is resistant to most antibiotics. It is transmitted from person to person by the fecal-oral route. Because the organism forms heat-resistant spores, it can remain in the hospital or nursing home environment for long periods of time. It can be cultured from almost any surface in the hospital. Once spores are ingested, they pass through the stomach unscathed because of their acid-resistance. They change to their active form in the colon and multiply.
It has been observed that several disinfectants commonly used in hospitals may fail to kill the bacteria, and may actually promote spore formation. However, disinfectants containing bleach are effective in killing the organisms.
Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) can range in severity from asymptomatic to severe and life threatening, and many deaths have been reported, especially amongst the aged. People are most often infected in hospitals, nursing homes, or institutions, although C. difficile infection in the community, outpatient setting is increasing. Clostridium difficile associated diarrhea (aka CDAD) has been linked to use of broad-spectrum antibiotics such as cephalosporins and clindamycin, though the use of quinolones is now probably the most likely culprit; quinolones are frequently used in hospital settings. Frequency and severity of C. difficile colitis remains high and seems to be associated with increased death rates. Immunocompromised status and delayed diagnosis appear to result in elevated risk of death. Early intervention and aggressive management are key factors to recovery.
The rate of Clostridium difficile acquisition is estimated to be 13% in patients with hospital stays of up to 2 weeks and 50% in those with hospital stays longer than 4 weeks.
Increasing rates of community-acquired Clostridium difficile-associated infection/disease (CDAD) have also been linked to the use of medication to suppress gastric acid production: H2-receptor antagonists increased the risk twofold, and proton pump inhibitors threefold, mainly in the elderly. It is presumed that increased gastric pH, (alkalinity), leads to decreased destruction of spores.
The presence of any one of these findings has a sensitivity of 86% and a specificity of 45%. In this study of hospitalized patients with a prevalence of positive cytotoxin assays of 14%, the positive predictive value was 20% and the negative predictive value was 95%.
At a prevalence of 15%, this leads to:
Experts recommend sending as many as three samples to rule-out disease if initial tests are negative. C. difficile toxin should clear from the stool of previously infected patients if treatment is effective.
Unfortunately, many hospitals only test for the prevalent toxin A. Strains that express only the B toxin are now present in many hospitals and ordering both toxins should occur. Not testing for both may contribute to a delay in obtaining laboratory results, which is often the cause of prolonged illness and poor outcomes.
The presence of wall thickness plus any one of these ancillary findings yields:
Using criteria of >=10 mm or a wall thickness of >4 mm and any of the more-specific findings does not add significantly to the diagnosis but gives equally satisfactory results. In this study with a prevalence of positive C. difficile toxin of 54%, the positive predictive value was 88%. Patients who have antibiotic-associated diarrhea who have CT findings diagnostic of CDC merit consideration for treatment on that basis. A weakness of this study was not using a gold standard cytotoxicity assay.
It is possible that mild cases do not need treatment.
Patients should be treated as soon as possible when the diagnosis of Clostridium difficile colitis (CDC) is made to avoid frank sepsis or bowel perforation.
It has been known that drugs traditionally used to stop diarrhea worsen the course of C. difficile-related pseudomembranous colitis. Loperamide, diphenoxylate and bismuth compounds are indeed contraindicated, because slowing of fecal transit time is thought to result in extended toxin-associated damage. Cholestyramine, a powder drink occasionally used to lower cholesterol, is effective in binding both Toxin A and B, and slows bowel motility and helps prevent dehydration. The dosage can be 4 grams daily, to up to four doses a day: caution should be exercised to prevent constipation, or drug interactions, most notably the binding of drugs by cholestyramine, preventing their absorption. Powdered banana flakes given twice daily is an alternative to cholestyramine and allow for stool bulking. Treatment with probiotics ("good" intestinal flora) has also been shown effective. Provision of Saccharomyces boulardii (Florastor) or Lactobacillus acidophilus twice daily times 30 days along with antibiotics has been clinically shown to shorten the duration of diarrhoea. A last-resort treatment in immunosuppressed patients is intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG).vasopressors.
Infection control measures, such as wearing gloves when caring for patients with CDAD, have been proven to be effective at preventing CDAD. This works by limiting the spread of C. difficile in the hospital setting. Additionally, washing with soap and water will eliminate the spores from contaminated hands, but alcohol-based hand rubs are ineffective.
Treatment with various oral supplements containing live bacteria has been studied in efforts to prevent Clostridium difficile-associated infection/disease. A randomized controlled trial using a probiotic drink containing Lactobacillus casei, L bulgaricus, and Streptococcus thermophilus was reported to have some efficacy. This study was sponsored by the company that produces the drink studied . Although intriguing, several other studies have been unable to demonstrate any benefit of oral supplements of similar bacteria at preventing CDAD. Of note, patients on the antibiotics most strongly associated with CDAD were excluded from this study. On January 29, 2008, scientists revealed that they have found a vaccination to prevent Clostridium difficile. They stated it will be released in about three years' time.
A similar outbreak took place at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in the United Kingdom between 2003 and 2005. The local epidemiology of C. difficile may offer clues on how its spread may relate to the amount of time a patient spends in hospital and/or a rehabilitation center. It also samples institutions' ability to detect increased rates, and their capacity to respond with more aggressive hand washing campaigns, quarantine methods, and availability of yoghurt to patients at risk for infection.
It has been suggested that both the Canadian and English outbreaks were related to the seemingly more virulent Strain NAP1/027 of bacterium. This novel strain, also known as Quebec strain, has also been implicated in an epidemic at two Dutch hospitals (Harderwijk and Amersfoort, both 2005). A theory for explaining the increased virulence of 027 is that it is a hyperproducer of both toxin A and B, and that certain antibiotics may actually stimulate the bacteria to hyperproduce.
On December 2, 2005, The New England Journal of Medicine, in an article spearheaded by Drs. Vivian Loo, Louise Poirier, and Mark Miller, reported the emergence of a new, highly toxic strain of C. difficile, resistant to fluoroquinolone antibiotics, such as Cipro (ciprofloxacin) and Levaquin (levofloxacin), said to be causing geographically dispersed outbreaks in North America. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has also warned of the emergence of an epidemic strain with increased virulence, antibiotic resistance, or both.
As one analyzes the pool of patients with the spores, many who are asymptomatic will pass the organism to individuals who are immunocompromised and hence, susceptible to increasing rates of diarrhea and poor outcome. It seems notable that the clusters described above represent a challenge to epidemiologists trying to understand how the illness spreads via the convergence of information technology with clinical surveillance.
On October 1, 2006, C.diff was said to have killed at least 49 people at hospitals in Leicester, England over eight months, according to a National Health Service investigation. Another 29 similar cases were investigated by coroners. A UK Department of Health memo leaked shortly afterwards revealed significant concern in government about the bacterium, described as being "endemic throughout the health service
On November 18, 2006, the bacterium was reported to have been responsible for 12 deaths in Quebec, Canada. This 12th reported death was only two days after the St. Hyacinthe's Honoré Mercier announced that the outbreak was under control. Thirty-one patients were diagnosed with Clostridium difficile and four (as of Sat. Nov 18th) were still under observation. Cleaning crews took measures in an attempt to clear the outbreak.
On February 27, 2007, a new outbreak was identified at Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga Ontario, where 14 people were diagnosed with the bacteria. The bacteria was the same strain as the one in Quebec. Officials have not been able to determine if C. difficile was responsible for deaths of four patients over the prior two months.
Between February and June 2007, three patients at Loughlinstown Hospital in Dublin, Ireland were found by the coroner to have died as a result of C.diff infection. In an inquest, the Coroner's Court found that the hospital had no designated infection control team or consultant microbiologist on staff.
In October 2007, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust was heavily criticized by the Healthcare Commission regarding its handling of a major outbreak of C. difficile in its hospitals in Kent from April 2004 to September 2006. In its report, the Commission estimated that about 90 patients "definitely or probably" died as a result of the infection.
In November 2007, the 027 strain has spread into several hospitals in southern Finland, with ten deaths out of 115 infected patients reported on 2007-12-14.
Clostridium difficile was mentioned on 6,480 death certificates in 2006 in UK.
In June 2007 a tv program was shown highlighting the dangers and unsafe working practices carried out by outside agencies employing cleaners, a reporter went undercover and was employed with no CRB check s or refs. The hospital featured was in Wales. The hospital trust was seen to be very complacent when presented with the tv evidence.
It is expected this will allow quicker detection of the disease and better treatment.
Wins Story (The risks of C Diff infection and hospital neglect)http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=Gn1i9imSE-0