Background: Variations in testing for Clostridium difficile infection can hinder patients' care, increase the risk of transmission, and skew epidemiological data. We aimed to measure the underdiagnosis of C difficile infection across Europe.
Methods: We did a questionnaire-based study at 482 participating hospitals across 20 European countries. Hospitals were questioned about their methods and testing policy for C difficile infection during the periods September, 2011, to August, 2012, and September, 2012, to August, 2013. On one day in winter, 2012-13 (December, 2012, or January, 2013), and summer, 2013 (July or August), every hospital sent all diarrhoeal samples submitted to their microbiology laboratory to a national coordinating laboratory for standardised testing of C difficile infection. Our primary outcome measures were the rates of testing for and cases of C difficile infection per 10 000 patient bed-days. Results of local and national C difficile infection testing were compared with each other. If the result was positive at the national laboratory but negative at the local hospital, the result was classified as undiagnosed C difficile infection. We compared differences in proportions with the Mann-Whitney test, or McNemar's test if data were matched.
Findings: During the study period, participating hospitals reported a mean of 65·8 tests (country range 4·6-223·3) for C difficile infection per 10 000 patient-bed days and a mean of 7·0 cases (country range 0·7-28·7) of C difficile infection per 10 000 patient-bed days. Only two-fifths of hospitals reported using optimum methods for testing of C difficile infection (defined by European guidelines), although the number of participating hospitals using optimum methods increased during the study period, from 152 (32%) of 468 in 2011-12 to 205 (48%) of 428 in 2012-13. Across all 482 European hospitals on the two sampling days, 148 (23%) of 641 samples positive for C difficile infection (as determined by the national laboratory) were not diagnosed by participating hospitals because of an absence of clinical suspicion, equating to about 74 missed diagnoses per day.
Interpretation: A wide variety of testing strategies for C difficile infection are used across Europe. Absence of clinical suspicion and suboptimum laboratory diagnostic methods mean that an estimated 40 000 inpatients with C difficile infection are potentially undiagnosed every year in 482 European hospitals.
Funding: Astellas Pharmaceuticals Europe.
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