Clostridium perfringens

Clostridium perfringens (formerly known as C. welchii) is a Gram-positive, rod-shaped, anaerobic, spore-forming bacterium of the genus Clostridium. It is always present in nature and is a normal component of decaying vegetation, marine sediment, the intestinal tract of humans, other vertebrates, insects, and soil. It can be a human pathogen and also harmlessly ingested.

Commonly it is encountered in infections as a component of the normal flora where it takes a minor role in the disease. Infections show some evidence of tissue necrosis, bacteremia, emphysematous cholecystitis, and gas gangrene, which is also known as clostridial myonecrosis. The toxin in gas gangrene is α-toxin which inserts into the plasma membrane of cells disrupting normal cellular function C. perfringens. Ingestion can lead to bacteria multiplying and leading to colic, diarrhea, and sometimes nausea.

C. perfringens bacteria are the third-most-common cause of food-borne illness, with poorly prepared meat and poultry the main culprits in harboring the bacterium. It can be detected in contaminated food and feces.

Incubation time is between 6 and 24 hours after ingestion of contaminated food. Symptoms include abdominal cramping, and diarrhea. Vomiting and fever are rare and the course of the disease usually only last 24 hours. In rare cases, clostridial necrotizing enteritis have been known to involve “Type C” strains of the organism which are found in Papua New Guinea.

Most of the population has antibodies to the toxin and thus many people have experienced food poisoning due to C. perfringens. It is used as the leavening agent in salt rising bread since the baking process is thought to reduce the bacterial contamination precluding negative effects.