Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology

Original Articles

Epidemiological Model for Clostridium difficile Transmission in Healthcare Settings

C. Lanzasa1a2, E. R. Dubberkea3, Z. Lua1, K. A. Reskea3 and Y. T. Gröhna1

a1 Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

a2 Department of Comparative Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee

a3 Department of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri


Objective. Recent outbreaks of Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) have been difficult to control, and data indicate that the importance of different sources of transmission may have changed. Our objectives were to evaluate the contributions of asymptomatic and symptomatic C. difficile carriers to new colonizations and to determine the most important epidemiological factors influencing C. difficile transmission.

Design, Setting, and Patients. Retrospective cohort study of all patients admitted to medical wards at a large tertiary care hospital in the United States in the calendar year 2008.

Methods. Data from six medical wards and published literature were used to develop a compartmental model of C. difficile transmission. Patients could be in one of five transition states in the model: resistant to colonization (R), susceptible to colonization (S), asymptomatically colonized without protection against CDI (C-), asymptomatically colonized with protection against CDI (C+), and diseased (ie, with CDI; D).

Results. The contributions of C-, C+, and D patients to new colonizations were similar. The simulated basic reproduction number ranged from 0.55 to 1.99, with a median of 1.04. These values suggest that transmission within the ward alone from patients with CDI cannot sustain new C. difficile colonizations and therefore that the admission of colonized patients plays an important role in sustaining transmission in the ward. The epidemiological parameters that ranked as the most influential were the proportion of admitted C- patients and the transmission coefficient for asymptomatic carriers.

Conclusion. Our study underscores the need to further evaluate the role of asymptomatically colonized patients in C. difficile transmission in healthcare settings.

(Received November 08 2010)

(Accepted December 05 2010)