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Germs that infect humans

Clostridium perfringens

Clostridium perfringens

© Dennis Kunkel Microscopy, Inc.

Microorganism: generally caused by the bacillus Clostridium perfringens

Disease: gangrene

Occurrence of the disease

History: gangrene is a common battlefield disease, since it is associated with wound infections.

Current situation: gangrene is relatively rare in industrialized countries.

Mechanism of action of the microorganism: the microorganism enters the host through wounded tissue. The bacteria produce a poisonous toxin that destroys affected tissue. The bacterium responsible for gangrene is anaerobic, that is, it can grow only in the absence of oxygen. In untreated cases, the mortality rate is from 40 to 60%.

Symptoms of the disease: severe pain in infected areas, caused by death of muscle tissue; edema (accumulation of fluid in tissues); and discharge.

Incubation period: less than three days

Contagious period: person-to-person transmission has never been observed.

Hosts: most humans have this type of bacteria in their large intestines. Furthermore, this organism is found in soil around the world.

Transmission: contamination of a wound by gangrene bacteria, from the soil or from the large intestine.

Discoverer of the microorganism: Welch and Nuttall in 1892.

Treatment: administration of antitoxin and antibiotics such as penicillin and tetracycline. The use of oxygen can also prevent the growth of the bacteria, since this species cannot tolerate oxygen. Amputation of affected limbs is often necessary in order to prevent the spread of the disease throughout the body.

Geographical distribution of the microorganism: worldwide

Prevention: ensure cleanliness of wounds following surgery.

Vaccine: not available