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Clin Microbiol Infect. 2003 Oct;9(10):989-96.

A European survey of diagnostic methods and testing protocols for Clostridium difficile.

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Laboratory of Microbiology, Center Hospitalier Universitaire Saint-Antoine, Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris, Paris, France.



To conduct a survey of the methods used in clinical microbiology laboratories in Europe to diagnose infection with Clostridium difficile.


A questionnaire was devised and sent to a co-ordinating member of the Study Group in each of eight European countries. This co-ordinator was in charge of forwarding the questionnaire to hospital laboratories arbitrarily selected. The number of laboratories in each country was determined on the basis of one laboratory for 10,000 beds of hospitalization. This questionnaire covered different aspects pertaining to Clostridium difficile associated to diarrhea (CDAD) diagnosis such as circumstances of request, criteria used for undertaking C. difficile investigations, methods used for the diagnosis, etc.


A total of 212 questionnaires were completed and submitted for analysis: 87.7% of laboratories reported routinely performing C. difficile diagnostic tests. Methods used included toxin detection (93%), culture (55%), and glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH) detection (5.9%). Among the laboratories detecting toxins, different enzyme immunoassays (EIA) and cytotoxicity assays were used in 79% and 17.3% of cases, respectively. Among the different strategies reported, 4.8% were considered suboptimal for the diagnosis of C. difficile infections, but marked discrepancies could be observed between countries. The overall incidence (median) of CDAD was estimated at 1.1 for 1,000 patient admissions.


The results of this study suggest marked discrepancies between laboratories and also between countries regarding the criteria by which C. difficile is investigated for, and the methods and the strategies that are used for the diagnosis of C. difficile. These discrepancies could be explained by the lack of clear guidelines for C. difficile diagnosis in each country, and by the importance that physicians attach to C. difficile. Precise guidelines for C. difficile diagnosis would be the first step to make possible accurate comparison of the incidence and the epidemiology of CDAD from one hospital to another or from one country to another.

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