Clostridium perfringens food poisoning results from eating food contaminated by the bacterium Clostridium perfringens. Once in the small intestine, the bacterium releases a toxin that often causes diarrhea.
Some strains cause mild to moderate disease that gets better without treatment, whereas other strains cause severe gastroenteritis that can damage the small intestine and sometimes lead to death. Contaminated meat is usually responsible for outbreaks of Clostridium perfringens food poisoning. Some strains cannot be destroyed by cooking the food thoroughly, whereas others can.
The gastroenteritis starts about 6 to 24 hours after contaminated food is eaten. The most common symptoms are watery diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Although usually mild, the infection also can cause abdominal pain, abdominal expansion (distention) from gas, severe diarrhea, dehydration, and a severe decrease in blood pressure (shock). Symptoms usually last about 24 hours.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A doctor usually suspects the diagnosis when a local outbreak of the disease has occurred. The diagnosis is confirmed by testing contaminated food or the stool of affected people for Clostridium perfringens.
To prevent infection, leftover cooked meat should be refrigerated promptly and reheated thoroughly before serving. The person is given fluids and is encouraged to rest. Antibiotics are not given.
Last full review/revision August 2012 by Thomas G. Boyce, MD, MPH