Clostridium Perfringens: Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Thomas Higginbotham

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.

Clostridium perfringens is a bacterium that is estimated to cause nearly one million cases of food poisoning annually in the United States. It can also cause very dangerous wound infections. In this lesson, learn about this dynamic microbe, its symptoms, and treatment for illness.

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.

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