Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Detection of Clostridium difficile infection clusters, using the temporal scan statistic, in a community hospital in southern Ontario, Canada, 2006–2011

Meredith C Faires1*, David L Pearl1, William A Ciccotelli23, Olaf Berke14, Richard J Reid-Smith15 and J Scott Weese5

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Population Medicine, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

2 Infection Prevention and Control, Grand River Hospital, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

3 Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

4 Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

5 Department of Pathobiology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2014, 14:254  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-14-254

Published: 12 May 2014



In hospitals, Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) surveillance relies on unvalidated guidelines or threshold criteria to identify outbreaks. This can result in false-positive and -negative cluster alarms. The application of statistical methods to identify and understand CDI clusters may be a useful alternative or complement to standard surveillance techniques. The objectives of this study were to investigate the utility of the temporal scan statistic for detecting CDI clusters and determine if there are significant differences in the rate of CDI cases by month, season, and year in a community hospital.


Bacteriology reports of patients identified with a CDI from August 2006 to February 2011 were collected. For patients detected with CDI from March 2010 to February 2011, stool specimens were obtained. Clostridium difficile isolates were characterized by ribotyping and investigated for the presence of toxin genes by PCR. CDI clusters were investigated using a retrospective temporal scan test statistic. Statistically significant clusters were compared to known CDI outbreaks within the hospital. A negative binomial regression model was used to identify associations between year, season, month and the rate of CDI cases.


Overall, 86 CDI cases were identified. Eighteen specimens were analyzed and nine ribotypes were classified with ribotype 027 (n = 6) the most prevalent. The temporal scan statistic identified significant CDI clusters at the hospital (n = 5), service (n = 6), and ward (n = 4) levels (P ≤ 0.05). Three clusters were concordant with the one C. difficile outbreak identified by hospital personnel. Two clusters were identified as potential outbreaks. The negative binomial model indicated years 2007–2010 (P ≤ 0.05) had decreased CDI rates compared to 2006 and spring had an increased CDI rate compared to the fall (P = 0.023).


Application of the temporal scan statistic identified several clusters, including potential outbreaks not detected by hospital personnel. The identification of time periods with decreased or increased CDI rates may have been a result of specific hospital events. Understanding the clustering of CDIs can aid in the interpretation of surveillance data and lead to the development of better early detection systems.

Clostridium difficile infection; Temporal scan statistic; Clusters; Community hospital; Ribotype 027