Tom has taught math / science at secondary & post-secondary, and a K-12 school administrator. He has a B.S. in Biology and a PhD in Curriculum & Instruction.
The Danger of Casseroles
Remember that last family get-together when Aunt Mae made her infamous tuna casserole. And, how organized and 'smart' she was by making it a day in advance? As delectable as those crispy and mushy corn flakes on top may be, unless Aunt Mae really knows her stuff, she may have been the reason half your family spent that evening and the next day, um, in the restroom. By leaving that casserole out for a day to 'settle', she was allowing the microbe that has the fastest known generational time to go from insignificant microbe to illness-inducing microbe. Clostridium perfringens, which can reproduce in under seven minutes, is one of the more common causes of foodborne illness.
What is Clostridium Perfringens?
Like most of the Clostridium genus, Clostridium perfringens or C. perfringens can be a nasty little bug. It is a commonly found, gram-positive anaerobic bacterium. However, it is nasty only in large quantities. In fact, it exists in the normal intestinal microflora of humans, helping to break down food into its component nutrients so they can be absorbed into the bloodstream. However, when ingested in large quantities - as in Aunt Mae's tuna casserole that was left out too long - the toxin it produces causes a quick-onset, but rapidly evacuated illness. Its toxins also can be responsible for gas gangrene in wounds where a large quantity of the bacterium has colonized. The rest of this article details two types of medical conditions induced by C. perfringens: foodborne illness and skin wounds.
C. Perfringens Foodborne Illness Symptoms and Treatments
C. perfringens is estimated to be responsible for nearly one million cases of food poisoning each year in the United States. While intensely unpleasant, these cases are rarely fatal. Onset of symptoms, which usually include abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, and nausea usually occur within 8-12 hours, and usually end within 24 hours of onset. Treatment for C. perfringens illness generally includes rehydration and replacement of electrolytes. More severe cases may require intravenous hydration. Though this is an illness caused by a bacterium, antibiotics are generally not recommended since symptoms resolve so quickly.
C. Perfringens Wound Infections Symptoms and Treatments
Wounds - either naturally occurring or surgical - can become infected with C. perfringens, a potentially dangerous and possibly fatal situation. Infected tissue is subject to gas gangrene, which is essentially the killing and liquefaction of tissue, along with an associated gas production. C. perfringens infections were very common in Civil War times, and often required amputation of the infected limb or part. C. perfringens is also known well by morticians as a major cause of corpse decay, the process of which is stopped by embalming. Finally, C. perfringens byproducts are what give corpses their characteristic odor.
Pigbel Syndrome Symptoms and Treatment
One strain of C. perfringens cause a very serious, often fatal, illness called pigbel syndrome, or necrotic enteritis. In this illness, type C variants of C. perfringens infect the intestines, where the toxins they produce kill the cells of the intestinal walls. Severe intestinal distress is present, and ruptured intestinal walls can result in massive sepsis, as the non-sterile contents of the intestine infect the body cavity. Death often results. Fortunately, this illness is very rare in developed countries, and most commonly seen in Papua New Guinea.
Clostridium perfringens is a bacterium found in human digestive tracts and is often found on raw meats. In large quantities, it can cause several illnesses. First, it is one of the most common causes for foodborne illness, resulting in a short period of intense intestinal distress. Second, it can infect wounds, causing gas gangrene, which can kill and liquefy tissue, often resulting in surgical removal of infected tissue.
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