Rapid stool-based diagnosis of Clostridium difficile infection by real-time PCR in a children's hospital

Ruth Ann Luna, Bobby L. Boyanton, Seema Mehta, Ebony M. Courtney, C. Renee Webb, Paula A. Revell, James Versalovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Clostridium difficile is a major cause of nosocomial antibiotic-associated infectious diarrhea and pseudomembranous colitis. Detection of C. difficile by anaerobic bacterial culture and/or cytotoxicity assays has been largely replaced by rapid enzyme immunoassays (EIA). However, due to the lack of sensitivity of stool EIA, we developed a multiplex real-time PCR assay targeting the C. difficile toxin genes tcdA and tcdB. Stool samples from hospitalized pediatric patients suspected of having C. difficile-associated disease were prospectively cultured on cycloserine-cefoxitin-fructose agar following alcohol shock. Six testing modalities were evaluated, including stool EIA, culture EIA, and real-time PCR (tcdA and tcdB) of cultured isolates and stool samples. Real-time PCR detection was performed with tcdA and tcdB gene-specific primers and hydrolysis probes using the LightCycler platforms (Roche Diagnostics, Indianapolis, IN). A total of 157 samples from 96 pediatric patients were analyzed. The sensitivities of stool real-time PCR and stool EIA were 95% and 35%, respectively, with a specificity of 100% for both methods. The lower limit of detection of the stool real-time PCR was 30 CFU/ml of stool sample per reaction for tcdA and tcdB. This study highlights the poor performance of stool toxin EIAs in pediatric settings. Direct detection of C. difficile toxin genes in stool samples by real-time PCR showed sensitivity superior to that of stool and culture EIAs and performance comparable to that of real-time PCR assay of cultured isolates. Real-time PCR of DNA from stool samples is a rapid and cost-effective diagnostic modality for children that should facilitate appropriate patient management and halt the practice of serial testing by EIA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)851-857
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Clinical Microbiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)


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