Disease: Clostridium perfringens

This page provides general information about this condition; reveal the text by clicking on the green headers. Press releases, results from DWHC investigations as well as other useful documents and relevant literature can be found at the bottom of the page.
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Clostridium perfringens bacteria can cause a range of diseases in different animal species. Five different biotypes of C. perfringens are recognised based on the different toxins that they produce; the type of toxin determines to some extent, the nature of the disease caused by infection with these bacteria. The bacteria is found in many natural environments (e.g. soils and rotting vegetation) as well as in the intestinal tracts of many sorts of animals including humans where it does not always cause disease.

Susceptible species

Disease caused by C. perfringens typically results from damage to the body caused by toxins produced when large numbers of these bacteria are present in the intestines. They are considered to be part of the normal gut microflora of many animals and the range of species that is susceptible to disease is unknown.

In wildlife species C. perfringens has been associated with die-offs in water birds such as ducks and geese and is a sporadic cause of disease in deer and harbour seals.

Several disease syndromes have been well-described in farmed animals and include necrotising enteritis caused by C.perfringens types A and C in domestic poultry; pulpy kidney disease caused by C.perfringens type D in lambs; and severe necrotising enteritis and enterotoxiemia in many species of young animals (horses, sheep, cattle and pigs) caused by the lethal beta toxin produced by C.perfringens types B and C.

Disease may be related to a sudden change in diet that can alter the gut flora, leading to overgrowth of C.perfringens. In wild populations this may be associated with migration, seasons and unusual weather conditions resulting in increased/decreased availability of certain foodstuffs.

Along with several other species of Clostridia, C. perfringens has also been associated with gas gangrene which can develop when deep wounds are contaminated with bacterial spores.

Signs in animals

Disease can occur very suddenly and often animals die without clinical signs being observed. In cases of enterotoxaemia (in which the bacteria multiply rapidly in the gut and produce toxins that are absorbed into the blood), signs of blood poisoning may precede death including general malaise and apathy, and bloody diarrhoea may be seen.

Symptoms in people

People with C.perfringens associated food-poisoning typically develop diarrhoea and stomach cramps within 24 hours of eating the contaminated food. More information is available on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Infection of people

Disease caused by C. perfringens in humans is usually due to consumption of food contaminated with C. perfringens spores (an inactive form of the bacteria) that become activated and produce toxins in the gut.



  1. Rodrigo O. S. Silva, Lara R. Almeida, Carlos A. Oliveira Junior, Paula C. S. Lima, Danielle F. M. Soares, Pedro L. L. Pereira, Israel J. Silva and Francisco C. F. Lobato. Isolation and genotyping of clostridium perfringens from free-living south american coati (nasua nasua). Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 47(1):333-336. 2016
  2. Christopher Scala, Nicolas Duffard, Guy Beauchamp, Se´verine Boullier, Yann Locatelli. Antibody response to epsilon toxin of Clostridium Perfringens in captive red deer (cervus elaphus) over a 13-month period. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 47(1): 38–44, 2016
  3. Siebert U, Wohlsein P, Lehnert K, Baumgartner W. Pathological findings in harbour seals (Phoca vitulina): 1996–2005. J Comp Pathol. 2007;137(1):47–58.

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