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 (see Overview of Gastroenteritis) that can damage the small intestine and sometimes lead to death. Contaminated beef, poultry, gravies, and dried or precooked foods are 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—see Shock). Symptoms usually last about 24 hours.
A doctor usually suspects the diagnosis when a local outbreak of the disease has occurred. The diagnosis is confirmed by testing contaminated food 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 December 2014 by Thomas G. Boyce, MD, MPH