Health protection – guidance

Clostridium perfringens

The characteristics, diagnosis and epidemiology of Clostridium perfringens.

Clostridium perfringens is widely distributed in the environment and foods, and forms part of the normal gut flora in man and animals. Spores of C. perfringens survive cooking and, during slow cooling and unrefrigerated storage, germinate to form vegetative (growing) cells.

Under optimal growth conditions the organism has a generation time of 10 to 12 minutes, and gastroenteritis often follows ingestion of food containing large numbers of vegetative cells. Food poisoning most often occurs when food (usually meat) is prepared in advance and kept warm for several hours before serving.

Illness generally lasts no more than 24 hours although elderly people may be more seriously affected.

Clostridium perfringens is responsible for 80 to 95% of cases of gas gangrene, a rare but very severe form of gangrene (tissue death).

Diagnosis

Gastrointestinal bacteria reference unit (GBRU) is the national reference laboratory for a range of gastrointestinal pathogens including Clostridium perfringens.

Epidemiology

Reported outbreaks of gastroenteritis due to Clostridium perfringens in England and Wales from 1992 to 2012.

Year Number of outbreaks Total number ill
1992 32 748
1993 33 529
1994 22 467
1995 25 352
1996 28 498
1997 38 661
1998 22 523
1999 11 257
2000 7 144
2001 20 439
2002 9 385
2003 2 23
2004 6 486
2005 11 509
2006 8 147
2007 2 50
2008 2 153
2009 4 366
2010 3 53
2011 7 198
2012 5 79
2013 16 510