BACKGROUND: Clostridium difficile (CD) has increasingly become recognised as a significant international health burden, often associated with the healthcare environment. The upsurge in incidence of CD coincided with the emergence of a hypervirulent strain of CD characterized as 027. In 2010, 8 cases of CD 027 infections were identified in Italy. Since then, no further reports have been published. We describe 10 new cases of CD 027 infection occurring in Italy. METHODS: Since December 2010, stool samples of patients with severe diarrhea and clinical suspicion of the presence of a hypervirulent strain, were tested for CD 027 by the Xpert C. difficile PCR assay (Cepheid, Sunnyvale, CA). Clinical, epidemiological and laboratory data were collected. RESULTS: From December 2010 to April 2012, 24 faecal samples from 19 patients who fit the above criteria were submitted to our laboratory. Samples were collected from 7 different hospitals.Of these, 17 had a positive PCR for CD and 10 were the epidemic 027 strain (59%). All PCR positive samples had a positive EIA toxin A/B test. Nine of 10 patients were recently exposed to antimicrobials and were healthcare-associated, including 4 with a history of long term care facility (LTCF) admission; the remaining case was community-associated, namely the wife of a patient with hospital-acquired CD 027 infection. Five patients experienced at least one recurrence of CD associated diarrhea (CDAD) with a total of 12 relapsing episodes. Of these, two patients had 5 and 6 relapses respectively.We compared the 10 patients with 027 CDAD versus the 7 patients with non-027 CDAD. None of the 7 patients with non-027 CDAD had a recent history of LTCF admission and no subsequent relapses were observed (p = 0.04). CONCLUSIONS: Our study shows that CD 027 is emerging in healthcare facilities in Italy. Whilst nosocomial acquisition accounted for the majority of such cases, 4 patients had history of a recent stay in a LTCF. We highlight the substantial risks of this highly transmissible organism in such environments. Moreover, 50% of our patients with CDAD from the 027 strain had high relapse rates which may serve to further establish this strain within the Italian health and social care systems.
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