Twenty patients with haematological malignancies who developed Clostridium difficile bowel infection or colonisation are described. All isolates of C difficile were toxigenic in vitro and faecal cytotoxin (toxin B) was detected in 20/26 episodes. Ten of 20 episodes with detectable faecal cytotoxin were associated with typical antibiotic associated diarrhoea. In the other 10 episodes (nine patients), there was a severe unusual illness which was associated with detection of C difficile. The unusual features of the illness were pronounced jaundice (total bilirubin greater than or equal to 44 mumol/l), abdominal pain and distension, and initial constipation followed either by diarrhoea or by large bowel stasis. Four of these patients died within seven days. Bacteraemia was often a presenting feature in neutropenic patients subsequently shown to have C difficile. This was not the case in non-neutropenic patients. Bacteraemia was commonly polymicrobial and in two cases C difficile was isolated from blood culture. The clinical implications of recognition of this atypical C difficile associated syndrome are discussed.
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