Purpose: A prospective clinical and molecular epidemiologic study was conducted to define the frequency of nosocomial Clostridium difficile patient-to-patient transmission in an urban tertiary referral hospital.
Patients and methods: Over a 6-month period, environmental cultures for C difficile were obtained from patients with new positive stool cytotoxin assay (index cases); stool samples were obtained from selected patient contacts (the roommate, occupants of adjacent rooms, and the patient occupying the index room after discharge of the index case); and hand cultures were obtained from personnel contacts. C difficile isolates were analyzed by pulse-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) or, for isolates that were nontypeable by PFGE, by restriction enzyme analysis.
Results: During the study period, we identified 98 index cases of C difficile toxin-associated diarrhea, including focal outbreaks on two wards totaling 26 cases within a 2-month interval. Environmental contamination was detected at > or = 1 sites in 58% of rooms and often involved wide dispersed areas. Among 99 prospectively identified patient contacts, C difficile was cultured from the stool of 31 (31%), including 12 with diarrhea and 19 who were asymptomatic. C difficile was cultured from the hands of 10 (14%) of 73 personnel. Molecular analysis resolved 31 typing profiles among the index isolates; the most common profile (designated strain D1) was represented by 30 isolates. Among the isolates from patient contacts, 5 of 12 from symptomatic contacts matched the corresponding index isolate, and only 1 of 19 from asymptomatically colonized contacts matched. Transmission to personnel or patient contacts of the strain cultured from the corresponding index case was correlated strongly with the intensity of environmental contamination. Strain D1 was frequently represented among isolates associated with heavy environmental contamination, with personnel carriage, and with development of symptomatic illness among prospectively identified contacts.
Conclusions: Intense environmental contamination and transmission to close personnel and patient contacts represented coordinated properties of an individual epidemic strain. For most epidemiologically linked contacts, positive cultures for C difficile did not result from transmission from the presumed index case.