Infectious Diseases

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Clostridium perfringens

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What is Clostridium perfringens?

Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens) is a bacterium that can be found in the environment in areas such as soil, sediment, in the gut of humans and animals, in sewage and in raw food (frequently meat and poultry). The bacteria make tiny spores that can survive cooking and multiply to unsafe numbers at room temperature. When eaten these spores produce toxins in the intestinal tract which can make you sick.

How is it spread?

When food contaminated with C. perfringens is cooked the spores are not destroyed and the surviving bacteria have the potential to grow to high, dangerous numbers that cause food poisoning. C. perfringens naturally thrives in high-protein foods of animal origin. Meat and poultry products, stews, soups and gravy are commonly associated with C. perfringens food poisoning. Foods that are made in large amounts, then allowed to cook slowly for several hours before consumption or are allowed to cool slowly or are improperly refrigerated are also commonly implicated. This pattern is common in cafeterias, hospitals, nursing homes and prisons where foods is prepared in large quantities and may not be kept at safe temperatures prior to serving.

C. perfringens is not spread from person to person.

What symptoms should I watch for?

If you have food poisoning from C. perfringens you may experience stomach cramps, nausea, increased gas and watery diarrhea. Fever is not common. These symptoms usually start anywhere from 8-16 hours after the contaminated food is eaten. For most people symptoms go away within 24 hours without any medicine, however they can be worse and last up to a week or two in very young or old people, or longer in people with weak immune systems (for example, people with HIV/AIDS or people on cancer chemotherapy or on drugs that treat rheumatoid arthritis by lowering the actions of the immune system).

How is Clostridium perfringens diagnosed?

Diagnosis is made by detection of C. perfringens spores or enterotoxin in stool specimens. Identification of C. perfringens enterotoxins in food is not successful as most of the enterotoxins are produced, not in the food, but in the human gut after ingestion of food where C. perfringens was allowed to grow in large numbers.

What is the treatment for C. perfringens?

Usually no treatment is required. Oral rehydration therapy may be provided for patients with severe dehydration. The more serious, longer-lasting cases should be treated to prevent complications.

How do I protect myself and others?

Safe food handling is critical to preventing C. perfringen spores that survive cooking from multiplying to large enough amounts where they can cause illness. Food that is not cooled and reheated properly may contain a lot of the bacteria.

  • Cooked foods should be maintained at a temperature of 60 degrees Celsius or higher prior to serving.
  • Foods should never be held at room temperature to cool, but should be refrigerated promptly after removal from warming devices or serving tables.
  • Large containers of food may take an extended period of time to cool to 4 degrees Celsius and therefore should be separated into smaller portions and stored in shallow containers.
  • Leftover foods should be reheated to 74 degrees Celsius or greater.
  • This common bacterium found in soil can contaminate raw foods like vegetables. Washing your fresh produce in clean, running water helps protect you.
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