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Clin Microbiol Infect. 2001 Aug;7(8):411-6.

Laboratory diagnosis of Clostridium difficile disease.

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Microbiology Unit, Université Catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Belgium.


The laboratory diagnosis of Clostridium difficile-associated disease (CDAD) is based on culture and toxin detection in fecal specimens. Culture is performed on a commercially available selective media. C. difficile colony morphology is typical when viewed under a dissecting microscope. Definitive identification is best obtained by gas liquid chromatography. Culture is very sensitive but, when used alone without toxin testing, it leads to low specificity and misdiagnosis of CDAD when high rates of asymptomatic carriage exist. Toxin detection by a tissue culture cytotoxin assay followed by neutralisation with specific antiserum is often considered the standard. However, this approach lacks sensitivity and has not detected up to 30% of patients with confirmed CDAD. Multiple enzyme immunoassays (EIAs) have been introduced by various manufacturers for the detection of toxin A alone or for both toxins A and B. Some of these are designed to give results in less than 1 h. Comparative studies of EIA kits reported that the sensitivity and specificity are slightly lower than cytotoxin assays. Toxigenic culture tests C. difficile isolates for toxin production: colonies isolated on selective media are tested for in-vitro toxin production either by a cytotoxicity assay or by direct EIA. It has higher sensitivity than the cytotoxicity assay and equivalent specificity. In the routine laboratory, culture and toxin detection should be performed on every specimen and, in culture-positive and fecal toxin-negative cases, toxigenic cultures should be performed on isolated colonies.

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