is the leading cause of hospital-acquired diarrhea in the United States
, with the number of cases rising annually over the last three decades. This is largely due to the increased frequency of antibiotic usage, the development of better detection methods, and the fact that hospital environments are increasingly contaminated with spores of C. difficile
The definition of C. difficile diarrhea includes greater than six episodes of non-formed diarrheic stool per 24 hours, along with prior antibiotic treatment.
At least three events must occur in the pathogenesis of C. difficile-associated diarrhea (CDAD):
- Alteration of the normal fecal flora
- Colonic colonization with toxigenic C. difficile
- Growth of the organism with elaboration of its toxins
"Colonization resistance" is the term used to describe the mechanism by which indigenous flora control overgrowth of C. difficile. This resistance may be compromised by the use of antimicrobial compounds, underlying illness, or therapeutic procedures.
Infection begins with the ingestion of either the organism itself or spores, usually via the fecal-oral route. Spores in particular are able to survive the acidity of the stomach and germinate in the colon to produce vegetative organisms.
Toxinogenic strains subsequently produce Toxin A, Toxin B, and/or the Binary Toxin leading to colitis, pseudomembrane formation, and watery diarrhea. Significant complications of the clinical disease associated with infection are hypoalbuminemia, toxic megacolon (acute toxic colitis with dilatation of colon), and pseudomembranous colitis (PMC).