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J Clin Microbiol. 2010 Jan;48(1):124-30. doi: 10.1128/JCM.00734-09. Epub 2009 Nov 18.

Evaluation of tcdB real-time PCR in a three-step diagnostic algorithm for detection of toxigenic Clostridium difficile.

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Clinical Microbiology Laboratory, Harborview Medical Center, Seattle, Washington 98104, USA.


Clostridium difficile is the most common infectious cause of diarrhea in hospitalized patients. The optimal approach for the detection of toxigenic C. difficile remains controversial because no single test is sensitive, specific, and affordable. We have developed a real-time PCR method (direct stool PCR [DPCR]) to detect the tcdB gene encoding toxin B directly from stool specimens and have combined it with enzyme immunoassays (EIAs) in a three-step protocol. DPCR was performed on 699 specimens that were positive for C. difficile glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH) by Wampole C Diff Quik Chek EIA (GDH-Q) and negative for toxins A and B by Wampole Tox A/B Quik Chek EIA (AB-Q), performed sequentially. The performance of this three-step algorithm was compared with a modified "gold standard" that combined tissue culture cytotoxicity (CYT) and DPCR. A separate investigation was performed to evaluate the sensitivity of the GDH-Q as a screening test, and toxigenic C. difficile was found in 1.9% of 211 GDH-Q-negative specimens. The overall sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values, respectively, were as follows for an algorithm combining GDH-Q, AB-Q, and DPCR: 83.8%, 99.7%, 97.1%, and 97.9%. Those for CYT alone were 58.8%, 100%, 100%, and 94.9%, respectively. In comparison, the sensitivity and specificity of DPCR were estimated to be 97.5% and 99.7%, respectively, using the same modified gold standard. Neither CYT nor toxin EIA was sufficiently sensitive to exclude toxigenic C. difficile, and combining EIAs with CYT in a three-step algorithm failed to substantially improve sensitivity. DPCR is a sensitive and specific method for the detection of toxigenic C. difficile that can provide same-day results at a cost-per-positive test comparable to those of other methods. A three-step algorithm in which DPCR is used to analyze GDH EIA-positive, toxin EIA-negative specimens provides a convenient and specific alternative with rapid results for 87.7% of specimens, although this approach is less sensitive than performing DPCR on all specimens.

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