Clostridium difficile

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A gram positive rod that is anaerobic, motile, capable of producing subterminal spores, and produces a cytotoxin and enterotoxin.

Growth Conditions

Defined amino acid growth medium.

Health Hazards

Host Range

Humans, pigs, calves

Modes of Transmission

Fecal-oral contact; evidence for transmission via fomites and hands exists.

Signs and Symptoms
  • Mild or moderate diarrhea
  • Pseudomembranous colitis (can be fatal)
  • May be associated with the passage of mucus or occult blood in stool
  • Fever, cramping, abdominal discomfort and peripheral leukocytosis are common but found in fewer than half of patients
Infectious DoseUnknown
Incubation Period


Medical Precautions/Treatment


None currently available.


None currently available.


Oral therapy with metronidazole or vancomycin.


Diagnosed by Polymerase Chain reaction (PCR) and pulse field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). Monitor for symptoms (loose stool). Recover C. difficile organisms and/or toxin from stool samples to confirm.

Emory Requirements

Report all exposures.

Laboratory Hazards

Laboratory Acquired Infections (LAIs)

One reported case of an LAI from C. difficile.


Clinical specimens (feces).

Supplemental References

Canadian MSDS

Pathogen Safety Data Sheets

Containment Requirements


For clinical specimens and cultures.


For work with C. difficile in animals.

Spill Procedures


Notify others working in the lab. Allow aerosols to settle. Don appropriate PPE. Cover area of the spill with paper towels and apply an EPA registered disinfectant, working from the perimeter towards the center. Allow 30 minutes of contact time before disposal and cleanup of spill materials.


Contact Emory's Biosafety Officer (404-727-8863),
the EHSO Office (404-727-5922), or
The Spill Response Team (404-727-2888).

Exposure Procedures

Mucous membrane

Flush eyes, mouth or nose for 15 minutes at eyewash station.

Other Exposures

For an area not protected by skin, wash with soap and water for 15 minutes (open wounds, sores, etc.), and a minimum of 20 seconds of soap and water for areas with intact skin.


Immediately report incident to supervisor, complete an employee incident report in PeopleSoft.

Medical Followup 

7am-4pm (OIM): EUH (404-686-7941) EUHM (404-686-7106) WW (404-728-6431)

After Hours: OIM NP On Call 404-686-5500 PIC# 50464

Needle Stick (OIM): EUH (404-686-8587) EUHM (404-686-2352)

Yerkes: Maureen Thompson Office (404-727-8012) Cell (404-275-0963)



Spores are fairly resistant; moderate susceptibility to 1% sodium hypochlorite; susceptible to high level disinfectants (>2% glutaraldehyde) with prolonged contact time.


Spores are fairly resistant to heat (spores destroyed by moist heat - 121°C for at least 15 min).

Survival Outside Host

C. difficile is able to survive in soil, meat, and vegetables. Spores can survive for long periods outside of host.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Minimum PPE Requirements

At minimum, personnel are required to don gloves, closed toed shoes, lab coat, and appropriate face and eye protection prior to working with C. difficile. Additional PPE may be required depending on lab specific SOPs.

Additional Precautions

Wash hands with soap and water after removing gloves. Alcohol hand cleansers will not effectively eliminate the spores.