, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 173–181 | Cite as

Prospects for a Vaccine for Clostridium difficile

  • Lorraine Kyne
  • Ciarán P. Kelly
Leading Article


Clostridium difficile diarrhoea and colitis is a new disease that is attributable to broad spectrum antibiotic therapy. During the past 2 decades C. difficile has become one of the most common nosocomial pathogens in the developed world. As changing demographics create an increasingly elderly population and the use of broad spectrum antimicrobials continues to expand, C. difficile is likely to become increasingly problematic.

Disease caused by this organism is caused by the inflammatory actions of its 2 toxins, A and B, on the intestinal mucosa. Human antibody responses to these toxins are common in the general population and in patients with C. difficile-associated disease. There is substantial, albeit inconclusive, evidence to indicate that antitoxin antibodies provide protection against severe, prolonged or recurrent C. difficile diarrhoea.

Immunity induced by oral or parenteral passive administration of antibody is protective in animal models of C. difficile infection. In humans, intravenous passive immunisation with pooled human immunoglobulin has been successful in the treatment of recurrent and severe C. difficile colitis. Human trials of oral passive immunotherapy with bovine immunoglobulin therapy are in progress. Formalin—inactivated culture filtrate from toxigenic C. difficile, as well as purified and inactivated toxins, have been used to successfully immunise animals. Similar preparations are under investigation as possible human vaccines.

Antibiotic therapy is effective in treating most individual patients with C. difficile diarrhoea, but has proven ineffective in reducing the overall incidence of nosocomial infection. Active immunisation is probably the most promising approach to long term control of this difficult iatrogenic disease.


Adis International Limited Clostridium Difficile Infection Clostridium Difficile Pseudomembranous Colitis Beth Israel Deaconess Medical 
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Copyright information

© Adis International Limited 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of GerontologyBeth Israel Deaconess Medical CenterBostonUSA
  2. 2.Division of GastroenterologyBeth Israel Deaconess Medical CenterBostonUSA

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