Clostridium difficile: clinical disease and diagnosis.


Clostridium difficile is an opportunistic pathogen that causes a spectrum of disease ranging from antibiotic-associated diarrhea to pseudomembranous colitis. Although the disease was first described in 1893, the etiologic agent was not isolated and identified until 1978. Since clinical and pathological features of C. difficile-associated disease are not easily distinguished from those of other gastrointestinal diseases, including ulcerative colitis, chronic inflammatory bowel disease, and Crohn's disease, diagnostic methods have relied on either isolation and identification of the microorganism or direct detection of bacterial antigens or toxins in stool specimens. The current review focuses on the sensitivity, specificity, and practical use of several diagnostic tests, including methods for culture of the etiologic agent, cellular cytotoxicity assays, latex agglutination tests, enzyme immunoassay systems, counterimmunoelectrophoresis, fluorescent-antibody assays, and polymerase chain reactions.

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