Clostridium Perfringens Toxins
The bacterium Clostridium perfringens is divided into five types: A, B, C, D and E. These different strains of bacteria produce four different lethal toxins: alpha, beta, iota, and epsilon. The bacterium also produces various other toxins such as the theta toxin that damages the blood vessels and enterotoxins specific to intestinal cells. Clostridium perfringen is deadly to minks, sheep, pigs, cattle, and sometimes humans.
Five Types (A, B, C, D, and E)
Clostridium perfringens Type A is the most common strains. It is part of the normal flora of a cow's intestines. Favorable conditions induced by parasites or a change in diet could potentially result in overgrowth of the bacteria and infection. Clostridium perfringen Type A produces mostly alpha but also beta toxins and causes the gastrointestinal disease hemorrhagic bowel syndrome (HBS) or "bloody gut." The disease kills 85% of animals 24-36 hours after the first symptoms, and many animals die with little warning. A conditionally licensed vaccine from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Clostridium perfringens Type A toxoid effectively induces alpha toxins against the disease. In humans, Clostridium perfringens manifests itself as mild food poisoning lasting typically 24 hours.
Clostridium perfringens Type B manifests alpha, beta and epsilon toxins. The epsilon toxin is a spore-forming protein that causes fluids to leak from cells. The beta toxin is a necrotizing toxin that causes enteritis (inflammation of the small intestines) in young domestic animals. The infection is rarely found in humans.
11 strains of Clostridium perfringens Type C bacteria have been isolated from domestic animals such as pig, cattle, and fowl. Clostridium perfringens' beta toxins produces a fatal enteritis in young domestic animals, especially pigs. The symptoms include dehydration, weakness and diarrhea. Animals can be vaccinated with a type C toxoid. First described in humans in 1940s Germany and later in the 1960s in Papua New Guinea, the disease in humans is connected with improperly cooked meat eaten by protein deficient populations. The infection in humans causes necrosis of the intestines and septicemia. In post-World War II Northern Germany, the disease was discovered in starved humans who ate a large meal of meat and vegetables. The bacteria was the leading cause of mortality in Papua New Guinean children (50% of all deaths in children between ages 6 and 10) until a vaccination program against Type C beta toxin was instituted. The disease is known as 'pigbel,' which in pidgen English refers to abdominal pain after a large meal of pig. In developed countries, the disease is rare, sometimes occurring in diabetic patients. In the United States, the two reported cases were a 12 year old Type 1 diabetic under-nourished child and a 66 year old Type 2 diabetic woman who had consumed turkey sausage approximately 65 hours before death.
Clostridium perfringens Type D bacteria causes deadly enterotoxaemia affecting the small intestines in domestic animals, especially sheep, lamb, and goats. The Type D bacterium releases alpha and epsilon toxins. The epsilon toxin increases intestinal permeability and causes swollen kidneys, lung oedema, brain oedemia, and exudates (fluid that enters lesions from the blood vessels). The bacterial infection often results from a change in feed, feed that is too protein rich, or overfeed. Animals are vaccinated with an inactivated Type D isolate. The infection is rarely found in humans.
Clostridium perfringens Type E bacteria produces alpha and iota toxins, and causes hemorrhagic enteritis and a rare enterotoxaemia in young domestic animals, especially calves and lambs. The infection is rarely found in humans.
Gas gangrene, clostridial cellulitis and superficial contamination are all infections caused by Clostridium perfringens. In gas gangrene infections, the bacterium produces toxins in founds and causes local tissue necrosis. The infection initially causes fever and pain in the infected area followed by foul smelling exudates and gas bubbles as the muscle turns purplish and edematous (swollen with accumulation of fluids). Without treatment, the gas gangrene causes shock and fatalities.
Clostridium perfringens as a Biological Agent
The alpha toxin, produced by all five types of Clostridium perfringens, causes acute pulmonary disease in purified form, and as an aerosolized biological agent, can be deadly. The epsilon toxin in Clostridium perfringens B and D is also a potentially aerosolized biological weapons agent.
It was reported that during the Civil War, as the Confederates retreated following the battle of Vicksburg in 1863, dead livestock were thrown into the water supply to slow US General Sherman's pursuit. The dead animals most likely produced Clostridium perfringens and Clostridium tetani to hinder the Union soldiers. In 1863, the US issued General Order No. 100 stating: "The use of poison in any manner, be it to poison wells, or food, or arms, is wholly excluded from modern warfare."
Between 1981 and 1994, the South African biological weapons program called Project Coast headed by Colonel Wouter Basson developed Clostridium perfringens bacteria as a potentially lethal agent that stealthily resembled normal food poisoning. In August 2001, Iraqi representatives informed the United Nations Special Commission Team 7 that Iraq had researched the offensive use of Clostridium perfingens as a biological weapons agent. It was reported that the Iraqis produced over 90 gallons of the bacteria.
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