Clostridium difficile is the most commonly identified pathogen among health care-associated infections in the United States. There is a need for accurate and low-cost typing tools that produce comparable data across studies (i.e., portable data) to help characterize isolates during epidemiologic investigations of C. difficile outbreaks and sporadic cases of disease. The most popular C. difficile-typing technique is PCR ribotyping, and we previously developed methods using fluorescent PCR primers and amplicon sizing on a Sanger-style sequencer to generate fluorescent PCR ribotyping data. This technique has been used to characterize tens of thousands of C. difficile isolates from cases of disease. Here, we present validation of a protocol for the cost-effective generation of fluorescent PCR ribotyping data. A key component of this protocol is the ability to accurately identify PCR ribotypes against an online database (http://walklab.rcg.montana.edu) at no cost. We present results from a blinded multicenter study to address data portability across four different laboratories and three different sequencing centers. Our standardized protocol and centralized database for typing of C. difficile pathogens will increase comparability between studies so that important epidemiologic linkages between cases of disease and patterns of emergence can be rapidly identified.
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