The Changing Faces of Clostridium difficile: a personal reflection of the past 34 years

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Late in 1978 my boss gave me a folder with "Clostridium difficile (diffikilé)" written on it. Inside were a few recent and now classic papers by Bartlett, Larson and co. It was suggested that this might be an interesting research topic. So began a continuing adventure which has resulted in at least 50 publications from my group. Over the years we have made several important contributions to the field. Beginning in 1982 we showed that C. difficile was a common cause of community-acquired infection! During the next few years we did extensive structural studies on the bacterium. This culminated in 1984 with a fingerprinting study (by immunoblotting surface antigens), on Swedish strains supplied by C-E Nord, which was probably the first study to demonstrate that C. difficile was really an infectious agent. This was later reinforced with strains sent from Amsterdam by Ed Kuijper. Later in the 80s, in a study of recurrent disease, we showed that ca. 50% of recurrences were due to infection with a different strain. During my term as chair of the European Study Group for C. difficile, we began to define the status of C. difficile infection (CDI) in Europe and develop guidance for diagnosis and treatment. Recently we utilised our extensive culture collection, with isolates from the 1970s to the present, to observe how epidemiology has been driven largely by antibiotic usage. We have now come full circle: in the early years Clostridium difficile infection was caused by many different strains. Then in the period beginning in the 1990s, characterised by often-large outbreaks and poor infection control, disease was caused by a few endemic strains highlighted by the 027/NAP1/BI pandemic. Now in a much-improved local situation, we are seeing again that the majority of cases (largely sporadic) are caused by multiple types. Current studies range from molecular studies on toxin and spore production, immune responses, novel observations on CDI in children, to what is the best way of decontaminating the anaerobe laboratory.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages4
Early online date4 Jan 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Clostridium difficile
  • History


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