New vaccine against C. difficile infection shows promise in initial studies

A new vaccine against an intestinal condition caused by the bacterium Clostridium difficile, which kills approximately 30,000 Americans every year, has shown 100 percent efficacy in initial studies on mice and primates.

According to the study, which was published in Infection and Immunity, the vaccine protected mice and primates against toxins produced by the bacteria after just two immunizations, Science Daily reports.

"While our research was conducted in animal models, the results are very translatable to the clinic," Michele Kutzler, the author of the study and a researcher at Philadelphia, Pa.-based Drexel University, said, according to Science Daily. "In some cases, patients who acquire C. difficile can develop serious complications including severe diarrhea, toxic megacolon, bowel perforation, multi-organ failure, and death. Once fully developed, our DNA vaccine could prevent the deadly effects of C. difficile infection when administered to hospital patients at risk of acquiring C. difficile."

Kutzler said the time window during which protection occurs is important, because the time between colonization and onset of symptoms in humans can be just 10-14 days.

An estimated 500,000 C. difficile infections each year cost healthcare facilities and officials $10 billion annually. Morbidity and mortality have increased over the past 10 years, which Kutzler said is likely the result of hypervirulent strains and a higher incidence of relapsing disease, Science Daily reports.

The disease can be difficult to treat because bacterial spores remain in the hospital setting, where a majority of infections occur. While there is no standard treatment for recurrent disease, a number of experimental fecal transplants have shown promise, with no adverse reactions.

"Since our vaccine was safe, effective after only two immunizations, and performed exceptionally well, we feel that this success warrants further studies using human patients," Kutzler said, according to Science Daily.