Clostridium difficile infection: guideline-based diagnosis and treatment

Christoph Lübbert, Endres John, Lutz von Müller
Deutsches Ärzteblatt International 2014 October 24, 111 (43): 723-31

BACKGROUND: Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) is the pathogen that most commonly causes nosocomial and antibiotic-associated diarrheal disease. Optimized algorithms for diagnosis, treatment, and hygiene can help lower the incidence, morbidity, and mortality of C. difficile infection (CDI).

METHODS: This review is based on pertinent articles that were retrieved by a selective search in PubMed for recommendations on diagnosis and treatment(up to March 2014), with particular attention to the current epidemiological situation in Germany.

RESULTS: The incidence of CDI in Germany is 5 to 20 cases per 100,000 persons per year. In recent years, a steady increase in severe, reportable cases of CDI has been observed, and the highly virulent epidemic strain Ribotype 027 has spread across nearly the entire country. For therapeutic and hygiene management, it is important that the diagnosis be made as early as possible with a sensitive screening test, followed by a confirmatory test for the toxigenic infection. Special disinfection measures are needed because of the formation of spores. The treatment of CDI is evidence-based; depending on the severity of the infection, it is treated orally with metronidazole, or else with vancomycin or fidaxomicin. Fulminant infections and recurrences call for specifically adapted treatment modalities. Treatment with fecal bacteria (stool transplantation) is performed in gastroenterological centers that have experience with this form of treatment after multiple failures of drug treatment for recurrent infection. For critically ill patients, treatment is administered by an interdisciplinary team and consists of early surgical intervention in combination with drug treatment. A therapeutic algorithm developed on the basis of current guidelines and recommendations enables risk-adapted, individualized treatment.

CONCLUSION: The growing clinical and epidemiological significance of CDI compels a robust implementation of multimodal diagnostic, therapeutic, and hygienic standards. In the years to come, anti-toxin antibodies, toxoid vaccines, and focused bacterial therapy will be developed as new treatment strategies for CDI.

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