Nosocomial acquisition of Clostridium difficile infection

N Engl J Med. 1989 Jan 26;320(4):204-10. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198901263200402.


We studied the acquisition and transmission of Clostridium difficile infection prospectively on a general medical ward by serially culturing rectal-swab specimens from 428 patients admitted over an 11-month period. Immunoblot typing was used to differentiate individual strains of C. difficile. Seven percent of the patients (29) had positive cultures at admission. Eighty-three (21 percent) of the 399 patients with negative cultures acquired C. difficile during their hospitalizations. Of these patients, 52 (63 percent) remained asymptomatic and 31 (37 percent) had diarrhea; none had colitis. Patient-to-patient transmission of C. difficile was evidenced by time-space clustering of incident cases with identical immunoblot types and by significantly more frequent and earlier acquisition of C. difficile among patients exposed to roommates with positive cultures. Of the hospital personnel caring for patients with positive cultures, 59 percent (20) had positive cultures for C. difficile from their hands. The hospital rooms occupied by symptomatic patients (49 percent) as well as those occupied by asymptomatic patients (29 percent) were frequently contaminated. Eighty-two percent of the infected cohort still had positive cultures at hospital discharge, and such patients were significantly more likely to be discharged to a long-term care facility. We conclude that nosocomial C. difficile infection, which was associated with diarrhea in about one third of cases, is frequently transmitted among hospitalized patients and that the organism is often present on the hands of hospital personnel caring for such patients. Effective preventive measures are needed to reduce nosocomial acquisition of C. difficile.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Clostridium / isolation & purification
  • Clostridium Infections / epidemiology
  • Clostridium Infections / transmission*
  • Cross Infection / transmission*
  • Hand / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Immunoblotting
  • Patients
  • Personnel, Hospital
  • Prospective Studies
  • Space-Time Clustering