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J Mol Diagn. 2011 Nov;13(6):573-82. doi: 10.1016/j.jmoldx.2011.06.001. Epub 2011 Aug 18.

Laboratory diagnosis of Clostridium difficile infection can molecular amplification methods move us out of uncertainty?

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Cepheid, Sunnyvale, CA, USA.


The laboratory diagnosis of Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) continues to be challenging. Recent guidelines from professional societies in the United States note that enzyme immunoassays for toxins A and B do not have adequate sensitivity to be used alone for detecting CDI, yet the optimal method for diagnosing this infection remains unclear. Nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) that target chromosomal toxin genes (usually the toxin B gene, tcdB) show high sensitivity and specificity, provide rapid results, and are amenable to both batch and on-demand testing, but these tests were not universally recommended for routine use in the recent guidelines. Rather, two-step algorithms that use glutamate dehydrogenase (GDH) assays to screen for C. difficile in stool specimens, followed by either direct cytotoxin testing or culture to identify toxin-producing C. difficile isolates, were recommended in one guideline and either GDH algorithms or NAATs were recommended in another guideline. Unfortunately, neither culture nor direct cytotoxin testing is widely available. In addition, this two-step approach requires 48 to 92 hours to complete, which may delay the initiation of therapy and critical infection control measures. Recent studies also show the sensitivity of several GDH assays to be <90%. This review considers the role of NAATs for diagnosing CDI and explores their potential advantages over two-step algorithms, including shorter time to results, while providing comparable, if not superior, accuracy.

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