Treatment of recurrent C. difficile infection

FMT is an option for some patients


The case

This illustration depicts the ultrastructural morphology exhibited by a single Gram-positive Clostridium difficile bacillus. CDC/Jennifer Hulsey

A 67-year-old woman with a past medical history significant for diabetes mellitus type 2 and chronic kidney disease stage 3 was recently hospitalized for a community acquired pneumonia and treated for 5 days with moxifloxacin. In the week following this hospitalization, she began to have watery diarrhea and was found to have Clostridioides difficile diarrhea. She was treated with 10 days of oral vancomycin for her C. difficile infection (CDI). Approximately 3 weeks later, she again developed watery diarrhea with some abdominal cramping and has a leukocyte count of 22.4.

Key clinical questions

When is C. difficile considered recurrent?

Dr. John Bell, division of hospital medicine, University of California, San Diego Medical Center

Dr. John Bell

C. difficile is considered recurrent when a patient experiences symptom onset and has a positive test in the 2-8 week period following the resolution of symptoms from the previous episode that had been confirmed with a positive test.1

What is the recurrence rate for C. difficile?

Of patients who are initially diagnosed with C. difficile, about 20%-35% develop recurrence of their infection, and of those who experience recurrence, roughly 40%-60% will experience a second recurrence.2

What are the risk factors for recurrent C. difficile?

Risk factors for recurrence of C. difficile include older age (older than 65 years), female sex, Caucasian ethnicity, ongoing antibiotic use, concurrent proton pump inhibitor use, and more severe initial disease.

Also, receiving antineoplastic chemotherapy, being an organ transplant recipient, chronic kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease, hypogammaglobulinemia, or other immunodeficiency, as well as having exposure to infected adult or infant carrier of C. difficile have all been risk factors for recurrent disease. There is still some degree of ongoing controversy over the role of proton pump inhibitors as a risk factor.2

What are the treatment options for initial C. difficile infection?

The recent Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) guidelines recommend treating for an initial CDI with a 10-day course of oral vancomycin or fidaxomicin instead of metronidazole. This change is based on a combined analysis of two large randomized controlled trials that demonstrated better clinical response rates with vancomycin, compared with metronidazole (81.1% vs. 72.7%; P = .002).1,3

What are the treatment options for first recurrence?

Dr. Ali Farkhondehpour, division of hospital medicine, UC San Diego Health

Dr. Ali Farkhondehpour

The data is overall limited in treatment of first recurrence of CDI. The IDSA guidelines recommend that a first recurrence of CDI may be treated with oral vancomycin followed by a tapered and pulsed regimen or with a 10-day course of fidaxomicin. If metronidazole was used for the first episode, a 10-day course of vancomycin can be used.1

What are the treatment options for second and subsequent recurrences?

Second or subsequent CDI recurrences may be treated with oral vancomycin as a tapered and pulsed-dose regimen or with fidaxomicin as described above, but this is based on low quality of evidence.

The IDSA guidelines strongly recommend fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) for patients who have two or more C. difficile recurrences and in whom standard antibiotic treatment has not been successful. FMT has demonstrated high efficacy rates of 80%-90% for clinical remission of recurrent CDI.

FMT can be administered through various routes. The choice of delivery depends in part on local expertise, patient preference, cost, and risk of the procedure.1,4,5,6


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