Clostridium perfringens

by: Katie Thayer

What is Clostridium perfringens?

An anaerobic, gram-positive pathogen that produces many harmful gases and toxins that causes gangrene and enterotoxaemia in humans. It grows similarly to other intestinal bacteria, but it can also cause severe myonecrotic lesions. The enzymes and gases/toxin produced result in mass destruction of human tissue.

There are 5 strains of C. perfringens.

Where/How Can You Become Infected?

If you don't reheat food to kill the bacteria (C. perfringens grows well at room temperature), you can consume an excess of bacteria from poultry, beef, and pre-cooked foods. Outbreaks spread through schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and prisons, not bcause it's contagious, but because the people are all eating the same infected food.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Diarrhea and abdominal cramps within 6-24 hours of being infected. There isn't usually a fever or vomiting.

Pathovar identification is a required step in order to determine the vaccine needed. Labs run tests to determine the bacteria count. If there are more than 10^6 spores per gram of stool, C. perfringens can be diagnosed.

How Common is an Infection From C. perfringens and Who should Be Worried?

Foodborne illnesses are very commonly inked back to C. perfringens. It is estimated to cause almost 1,000,000 cases each year in the USA.


For an average adult, symptoms shouldn't last more than 48 hours. However, infants and the elderly can experience symptoms for up to 1-2 weeks. Everyone has a risk of becoming infected.

Infection Course

Bacteria (C. perfringens) grows on food that is not properly heated up.

Bacteria is ingested.

Too much bacteria in the intestines.

Sx such as diarrhea and gas occur.

symptoms should last 24-48 hours.


The disease is not contagious.

Possible Complications

Dehydration due to frequent diarrhea; gangrene.


In one case, a dog was infected and it caused a subcutaneous abscess. It led to osteomyelitis and pre-mature closure of the growth plates.