My patient with ulcerative colitis has had colectomy. Can she still get C. difficile infection?

Yes! Although a common cause of colitis, an increasing number of reports in the literature suggest C. difficile can cause enteritis as well.Antibiotic use is a major risk factor in most reports, with nearly one-half of the cases reported in patients with inflammatory bowel disease, many post-colectomy. 1-3

Mortality of C. difficile enteritis based on the first 83 cases in the literature appears to be 23%,1 but as high as 60%-83% depending on the report!2 Its diagnosis post-colectomy requires a high index of suspicion, as patients may not complain of “diarrhea” with chronically loose stools in the ileostomy bag.  Be particularly on the lookout for C. difficile enteritis in these patients when there is increased stool output, fever, hypotension, and/or leukocytosis2, and when in doubt, send a stool specimen from the ileostomy bag for C. difficile testing.

Although the pathophysiology of C. difficile enteritis is not fully understood, few observations are particularly intriguing: 

  • Small bowel mucosa may be colonized by C. difficile in about 3% of the population, potentially serving as a reservoir.2
  • Patients with ileostomy may develop a metaplasia of the terminal end mimicking colonic environment.4  
  • Exposure of rabbit ileum to C. difficile toxin A also causes significant epithelial necrosis with destruction of villi and neutrophil infiltration.5

 

References

  1. Dineen SP, Bailey SH, Pham TH, et al. Clostridium difficile enteritis: a report of two cases and systematic literature review. World J Gastrointest Surg 2013;5:37-42. https://www.wjgnet.com/1948-9366/full/v5/i3/37.htm
  2. Boland E, Thompson JS. Fulminant Clostridium difficile enteritis after proctocolectomy and ileal pouch-anal anastomosis. Gastroenterology Research and Practice 2008; 2008: Article ID 985658. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2633454/pdf/GRP2008-985658.pdf
  3. Freiler JF, Durning SJ, Ender PT. Clostridium difficile small bowel enteritis occurring after total colectomy. Clin Infect Dis 2001;33:1429-31. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/333b/d84978cfc4ac8fd21a15bc8fd26ff3160387.pdf
  4. Apel R, Cohen Z, Andrews CW, et al. Prospective evaluation of early morphological changes in pelvic ileal pouches. Gastroenterology 1994;107:435-43. http://www.gastrojournal.org/article/0016-5085(94)90169-4/pdf
  5. Triadafilopoulos G, Pothoulakis C, Obrien MJ, et al. Differential effects of Clostridium difficile toxins A and B on rabbit ileum. Gastroenterology 1987;93:273-279. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3596162
My patient with ulcerative colitis has had colectomy. Can she still get C. difficile infection?

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