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Clostridium perfringens

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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Clostridium perfringens

What is clostridium perfringens ?

Clostridium perfringens is a bacterium that is widely distributed in the environment and frequently occurs in the intestines of humans and many domestic and feral animals. Spores of the organism persist in soil, sediments, and areas subject to human or animal fecal pollution.

Perfringens food poisoning is the term used to describe the common foodborne illness caused by C. perfringens . A more serious but rare illness is also caused by ingesting food contaminated with Type C strains. The latter illness is known as enteritis necroticans or pig-bel.

What are the symptoms of perfringens poisoning?

The common form of perfringens poisoning is characterized by intense abdominal cramps and diarrhea which begin 8-22 hours after consumption of foods containing large numbers of those C. perfringens bacteria capable of producing the food poisoning toxin. The illness is usually over within 24 hours but less severe symptoms may persist in some individuals (such as the elderly or sick) for 1 or 2 weeks. Complications and/or death only very rarely occur. A few deaths have been reported as a result of dehydration and other complications. Necrotic enteritis (pig-bel) caused by C. perfringens is often fatal. This disease also begins as a result of ingesting large numbers of the causative bacteria in contaminated foods. Deaths from necrotic enteritis (pig-bel syndrome) are caused by infection and necrosis of the intestines and from resulting septicemia. This disease is very rare in the U.S.

How is perfringens poisoning diagnosed?

Perfringens poisoning is diagnosed by its symptoms and the typical delayed onset of illness. Diagnosis is confirmed by detecting the toxin in the feces of patients. Bacteriological confirmation can also be done by finding exceptionally large numbers of the bacteria in implicated foods or in the feces of patients.

What foods are associated with perfringens poisoning?

In most instances, the actual cause of poisoning by C. perfringens is temperature abuse of prepared foods. Small numbers of the organisms are often present after cooking, and multiply to food poisoning levels during cool down and storage of prepared foods. Meats, meat products, and gravy are the foods most frequently implicated.

How common is prefringens poisoning?

Perfringens poisoning is one of the most commonly reported foodborne illnesses in the U.S. Typically, dozens or even hundreds of person are affected at a time. It is probable that many outbreaks go unreported because the implicated foods or patient feces are not tested routinely for C. perfringens or its toxin. CDC estimates that about 10,000 actual cases occur annually in the U.S.

Who are most susceptible to perfringens poisoning?

Perfringens poisoning occurs most commonly in institutional feeding (such as school cafeterias, hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, etc.) where large quantities of food are prepared several hours before serving. The young and elderly are the most frequent victims of perfringens poisoning. Except in the case of pig-bel syndrome, complications are few in persons under 30 years of age. Elderly persons are more likely to experience prolonged or severe symptoms.


Food and Drug Administration

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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