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Clostridium Perfringens Toxins

What are Clostridium perfringens toxins?

Clostridium perfringens toxins are products of certain bacteria, plants or other living organisms that can be poisonous to other organisms. Clostridium perfringens toxins can make a person ill if enough is taken into the body.

What can someone come into contact with Clostridium perfringens toxins?

Clostridium perfringens toxins cannot be spread from person to person and they do not grow or increase in number in the body. They can be produced from bacteria found everywhere in the environment. They are most commonly associated with food poisoning, which can happen when —

  • People swallow a large amount of the bacteria, which then multiply and produce toxin in the intestine; or
  • People eat contaminated food with the toxin already in it.

Clostridium perfringens toxins as weapons:

The toxins can be purified into a concentrated form. They would most likely be aerosolized, although they could also be placed in water or food.
Please note: Just because you come into contact with a Clostridium perfringens toxin does not mean you will get sick from it.

What happens when someone gets sick from Clostridium perfringens toxins?

  • Food poisoning: Crampy stomach pain followed by diarrhea may begin six to 24 hours after eating contaminated food. Nausea is common, but fever and vomiting usually are not symptoms.
  • Purified toxins (weapon): Release of purified toxin may have multiple effects. The effects will depend on the strain of bacteria used, the type of toxin purified, the method of release and the amount taken into the body. The toxins can produce—
    • Stomach effects: Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and watery or bloody diarrhea with crampy stomach pain.
    • Respiratory effects: Difficulty in breathing, wheezing and coughing. Mouth and throat pain with some blood in the saliva and sputum may be possible.
    • Skin effects: Burning pain, redness, itching, rash or blisters.
    • Brain and nerve effects: One of the toxins produced (called epsilon toxin) damages the brains and nerves of animals in laboratory tests. It can lead to dizziness, difficulty with balance and coma. It is possible that these effects may occur in humans.

How likely is someone to die from Clostridium perfringens toxins?

Most people who suffer from Clostridium perfringens intoxication are uncomfortable, but not many of them die. People usually recover in 24 hours or less. It is unknown how deadly a release of purified toxin would be, but any effects will be related to the strain of bacteria used, the type of toxin purified, the method of release and the amount taken into the body.

What is the treatment for Clostridium perfringens toxins?

  • Prevention of illness after contact: First, leave the area where the toxin was released and move to fresh air.
    • Remove clothing.
      • Quickly take off clothing that may have the toxin on it. If helping other people remove their clothing, try to avoid touching any areas that may have Clostridium perfringens toxins on them, and remove the clothing as fast as possible.
    • Wash affected areas.
      • As quickly as possible, wash any toxin from the skin with lots of soap and water.
      • If the eyes are burning or vision is blurred, rinse the eyes with plain water for 10 to 15 minutes.
      • If contact lenses are worn, remove them and put them with the clothing. Do not put the contacts back in. If eyeglasses are worn, wash them with soap and water. Eyeglasses can be put back on after they are washed.
    • Discard contaminated items.
      • Place the clothing and any other contaminated items that may have come into contact with Clostridium perfringens toxins inside a plastic bag. Avoid touching them by wearing rubber gloves, turning the bag inside out and using it to pick up the clothing, or putting the clothing in the bag using tongs, tool handles, sticks or similar objects. Anything that touches the contaminated clothing should also be placed in the bag.
      • Seal the bag, and then seal that bag inside another plastic bag.
      • Contact the local county health department right away. (Visit for a listing of all county health departments in Illinois or check your local phone book.)
      • When the local or state health department or emergency personnel arrive, tell them what you did with the contaminated clothes. The health department or emergency personnel will arrange for further disposal. Do not handle the plastic bags yourself.
    • Treatment of illness: There is no specific treatment or established cure for Clostridium perfringens toxins. Supportive care (intravenous fluids, medicine to control fever and pain) is the standard treatment.

Is there a vaccine for Clostridium perfringens toxins?

No, there is no vaccine available for humans.

What should be done if someone comes into contact with a Clostridium perfringens toxin?

If you think that you or someone you know may have come into contact with Clostridium perfringens toxins, contact the local county health department right away. 

If you or someone you know is showing symptoms of clostridium perfringens toxins poisoning, call your health care provider or the Illinois Poison Center right away. The toll-free number for the poison center is 1-800-222-1222.