Asymptomatic Clostridium difficile colonization: epidemiology and clinical implications

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Furuya-Kanamori L, Marquess J, Yakob L, Riley TV, Paterson DL, Foster NF, Huber C, Clements AC. Asymptomatic Clostridium difficile colonization – Epidemiology and Clinical Implications. BMC Infect Dis2015; 15:516.DOI:10.1186/s12879-015-1258-4



The epidemiology of Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) has changed over the past decades with the emergence of highly virulent strains. The role of asymptomatic C. difficile colonization as part of the clinical spectrum of CDI is complex because many risk factors are common to both disease and asymptomatic states. In this article, we review the role of asymptomatic C. difficile colonization in the progression to symptomatic CDI, describe the epidemiology of asymptomatic C. difficile colonization, assess the effectiveness of screening and intensive infection control practices for patients at risk of asymptomatic C. difficile colonization, and discuss the implications for clinical practice.


A narrative review was performed in PubMed for articles published from January 1980 to February 2015 using search terms ‘Clostridium difficile’ and ‘colonization’ or ‘colonisation’ or ‘carriage’.


There is no clear definition for asymptomatic CDI and the terms carriage and colonization are often used interchangeably. The prevalence of asymptomatic C. difficile colonization varies depending on a number of host, pathogen, and environmental factors; current estimates of asymptomatic colonization may be underestimated as stool culture is not practical in a clinical setting.


Asymptomatic C. difficile colonization presents challenging concepts in the overall picture of this disease and its management. Individuals who are colonized by the organism may acquire protection from progression to disease, however they also have the potential to contribute to transmission in healthcare settings.