Life-threatening diarrhea: Infectious intestinal bacteria survive in the intestine for years

Life-threatening diarrhea: Infectious intestinal bacteria survive in the intestine for years

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Life-threatening hospital germ: bacteria can remain in the intestine for years

The bacterium Clostridium difficile is one of the most common hospital germs. The pathogen can cause life-threatening diarrhea and can remain in the intestine for several years. An international research team has now determined that the germ is even more stubborn than previously thought.

According to experts, the intestinal bacterium has spread widely as a result of the frequent use of antibiotics in recent years. However, a new study shows that this is only a sketchy explanation. The researchers found that Clostridium infections can follow any diarrhea - whether treated or untreated - and the disease can flare up again over many months.

Contagion via smear infection or contaminated objects

According to a message from the University of Vienna, the bacterium Clostridium difficile can secrete toxins, which can cause inflammation of the intestine with severe, often incurable, diarrhea.

As the Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA) explains on its portal "", the pathogens are eliminated with the stool. The germs are highly contagious. Even a small amount of pathogens is enough for an infection.

This usually occurs from person to person via a smear infection. Clostridia are passed on in minute traces of stool remnants from sick people via hands and the pathogens then get into the mouth from the hand.

Since the bacteria also survive outside the gastrointestinal tract, transmission can also take place via objects and surfaces to which the pathogens adhere, such as toilets, doorknobs, handles or handrails.

Intensive hygiene programs were not very successful

In order to deal with the highly contagious germs, according to the University of Vienna, hospitals have so far relied on intensive hygiene programs and the variation in the administration of antibiotics - however, the cases could not be significantly reduced.

It seems very likely that the pathogenic rod-like bacterium is primarily transmitted outside of hospitals. Because Clostridium difficile often colonize the intestine after infection with other diarrheal pathogens, experts may also find that such infections are increasingly misdiagnosed.

Bacteria also detected immediately after recovery

An international research team led by Martin Polz from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA) and the University of Vienna initially used publicly available sequencing data in the current study published in the journal "Nature Microbiology" and analyzed the previous occurrence.

Although all data show different aspects of colonization and spread, the scientists discovered a person whose values ​​particularly illustrated the most important observations from the study.

As part of a long-term observation, Clostridium difficile could also be detected from food poisoning immediately after recovery. "During this period, the occurrence fluctuated from one day to the next by several orders of magnitude - often for days below the detection limit, before there was a resurgence," explains Polz.

Occurrence can fluctuate significantly from day to day

According to the information, this pattern of colonization after more or less severe bowel diseases could subsequently be observed in several people, which ultimately suggests that Clostridium difficile only colonized people in the days immediately after the disease.

As explained in the release, the bacterium can remain in the human intestine for years and fluctuate significantly from day to day.

"Until now, it was believed that Clostridium difficile is transmitted primarily in hospitals and can settle there in people whose intestinal flora is weakened by the administration of antibiotics," said the microbiologist.

"However, the current results indicate that the germ appears much more frequently and can follow any intestinal disorder - whether caused by antibiotics, other infectious diseases or simple traveler's diarrhea." (Ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • University of Vienna: Disease-causing intestinal bacteria more persistent than expected, (accessed: February 11, 2020), University of Vienna
  • VanInsberghe, D., Elsherbini, J., Varian, B., Poutahidis, T., Erdman, S., Polz, M.F.,: Diarrhoeal events can trigger long-term Clostridium difficile colonization with recurrent blooms; in: Nature Microbiology, (published: 02/10/2020), Nature Microbiology
  • Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA): Clostridium difficile, (accessed: February 11, 2020),

Video: Clostridium (December 2022).