Danielle Rennard, Staff Writer
A new study has revealed an atrocious treatment that can be more effective in curing certain infections than taking pills. It has been discovered that transplanting feces from a healthy individual into the gut of one who is ill may be the solution to curing severe intestinal infections. Many of these infections are caused by extremely dangerous types of bacteria that antibiotics simply cannot control. The treatment is believed to work because it restores the gut’s normal balance of bacteria, which are needed to fight off Clostridium difficile and other bacteria that can infect the intestines.
The study conducted in the Netherlands found that the fecal transplants cured 15 of 16 patients who had recurring infections with Clostridium difficile bacteria, an infection of the intestines that can have flu-like symptoms. In contrast, antibiotics only cured three of 13 and four of 13 patients in two comparison groups. This was the first study that compared the transplants results with those of standard antibiotic therapy, and clearly it was successful. These transplants have been used periodically over the years, as a last resort, to fight this brutal and stubborn infection. The infection is generally caused by antibiotics because many kill off normal gut bacteria that is needed to fend off infections, such as Clostridium difficile. In the United States alone, 14,000 people a year are killed from this infection, and this treatment may be the number one cure.
According to researchers, about 500 people worldwide that suffer from the infection have had fecal transplantation. The treatment is done by diluting stool with liquid, such as salt water, and then pumping it into the intestinal tract through an enema, a colonscope, or a tube that runs through the nose and into the stomach or small intestine. Although this process sounds outright disgusting, stool contains hundreds or sometimes even thousands of different types of bacteria. However, the problem is that researchers do not know which bacteria has the curative powers needed to fight off this infection. This new research was the first to prove to skeptics that the process is in fact effective but, researchers now hope that the results will bring these transplants into the medical mainstream because it may be the only cure for some patients.
“Those of us who do fecal transplant know how effective it is,” said Dr. Colleen R. Kelly, a gastroenterologist with the Women’s Medicine Collaborative in Providence, R.I., who was not part of the Dutch study. “The tricky part has been convincing everybody else.” She also stated, “This is an important paper, and hopefully it will encourage people to change their practice patterns and offer this treatment more.” Another issue discussed by Dr. Lawrence J. Brandt, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, was that stool is now regarded as a drug by the Food and Drug Administration. This means that doctors will now be required to ask for permission before proceeding with the transplant, and this could hinder the treatment.
When it comes down to this deadly infection, researchers are eager for a positive response from patients. Clostridium difficile is a global problem, and more toxic strains of the infection have developed in the past decade. Even though fecal transplants may sound repulsive and make your stomach turn, it may be the only cure for this fatal infection and allow patients to finally get their lives back to normal.