Clostridium perfringens

Sydney Brooks


Clostridium perfringens is one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the United States. According to some estimates, this type of bacteria causes nearly a million a illnesses each year. Clostridium perfringens is a Gram-positive, rod-shaped, anaerobic, spore-forming pathogenic bacterium of the genus Clostridium. C. perfringens is ever present in nature and can be found as a normal component of decaying vegetation, marine sediment, the intestinal tract of humans and other vertebrates, insects, and soil.

What causes Clostridium perfringens?

C. perfringens food poisoning is caused by infection with the Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens) bacterium. C. perfringens is found frequently in the intestines of humans and many animals and is present in soil and areas contaminated by human or animal feces.

How is C. perfringens diagnosed?

Laboratories diagnose C. perfringens food poisoning by detecting a type of bacterial toxin in feces or by tests to determine the number of bacteria in the feces. A count of at least 106 C. perfringens spores per gram of stool within 48 hours of when illness began is required to diagnose infection.


Oral re-hydration or, in severe cases, intravenous fluids and electrolyte replacement can be used to prevent or treat dehydration. Antibiotics are not recommended.


Clostridium perfringens toxins cannot be spread from person to person and they do not grow or increase in number in the body. They can be produced from bacteria found everywhere in the environment. They are most commonly associated with food poisoning, which can happen when —

  • People swallow a large amount of the bacteria, which then multiply and produce toxin in the intestine; or
  • People eat contaminated food with the toxin already in it.

Target Audience

Everyone is susceptible to food poisoning from C. perfringens. The very young and elderly are most at risk of C. perfringens infection and can experience more severe symptoms that may last for 1 to 2 weeks. Complications, including dehydration, may occur in severe cases.


Perfringens poisoning is one of the most commonly reported foodborne illnesses in the U.S. There were 1,162 cases in 1981, in 28 separate outbreaks. At least 10-20 outbreaks have been reported annually in the U.S. for the past 2 decades. Typically, dozens or even hundreds of people are affected. It is probable that many outbreaks go unreported because the implicated foods or patient feces are not tested routinely for C. perfringens or its toxin. CDC estimates that about 10,000 actual cases occur annually in the U.S.

Disease Course/Possible Complications

The disease generally lasts 24 hours. In the elderly or younger generations, symptoms may last 1-2 weeks. The Type C strain of Clostridium perfringens can cause a more serious condition called Pig-bel Syndrome. This syndrome can cause death of intestinal cells and can often be fatal. Complications and/or death only very rarely occur.