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Clostridial necrotizing enteritis
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 A05.2
ICD-9 005.2

Clostridial necrotizing enteritis (CNE) -- also called enteritis necroticans and pigbel -- is an often fatal type of food poisoning caused by a β-toxin of Clostridium perfringens, [1] Type C. It occurs in some developing countries, but was also documented in Germany following World War II. The toxin is normally inactivated by certain proteolytic enzymes and by normal cooking, but when these protections are impeded, the disease emerges.



All the factors collectively causing CNE are generally only present in the hinterlands of New Guinea and parts of Africa, Latin America, and Asia. These factors include protein deprivation (causing inadequate synthesis of trypsin protease (an enzyme), to which the toxin is very sensitive), poor food hygiene, episodic meat feasting, staple diets containing trypsin inhibitors (sweet potatoes), and infection by Ascaris parasites which secrete a trypsin inhibitor. In New Guinea (origin of the term “pigbel”), the disease is usually spread through contaminated meat (especially pork) and perhaps by peanuts. (CNE was also diagnosed in post WWII Germany, where it was known as Darmbrand or "fire bowels").

Clinical aspects

CNE is a necrotizing inflammation of the small bowel (especially the jejunum but also the ileum). Clinical results may vary from mild diarrhea to a life-threatening sequence of severe abdominal pain, vomiting, bloody stool, ulceration of the small intestine with leakage (perforation) into the peritoneal cavity and possible death within a single day due to peritonitis. Many patients exhibit meteorism. Treatment involves suppressing the toxin-producing organisms with antibiotics such as penicillin G or metronidazole. About half of seriously ill patients require surgery for perforation, persistent intestinal obstruction, or failure to respond to the antibiotics. An investigational toxoid vaccine has been used successfully in some developing countries but is not available outside of research.

Other Clostridial toxemias


  • Cooke RA (1979). "Pig Bel". Perspect Pediatr Pathol 5: 137–52. PMID 575409.  
  • Murrell TG, Roth L, Egerton J, Samels J, Walker PD (January 1966). "Pig-bel: enteritis necroticans. A study in diagnosis and management". Lancet 1 (7431): 217–22. PMID 4159182.  
  • Murrell TG, Egerton JR, Rampling A, Samels J, Walker PD (September 1966). "The ecology and epidemiology of the pig-bel syndrome in man in New Guinea". J Hyg (Lond) 64 (3): 375–96. PMID 4288244.  
  • Nuland, Sherwin B., “The Beast in the Belly”, Discover, Vol. 16 No. 02 (February 1995).


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