clostridium difficile under a microscope
Fecal transplant is gaining traction as a way to treat the common and dangerous bacteria, clostridium difficile or "C.diff." Image from Wikimedia Commons.

There are many organic items one would consider donating to help a loved one, such as a kidney or a lung, but fecal matter is not ordinarily on that list. However, a growing number of people are undergoing fecal transplants to treat gastrointestinal disorders.

Procedure used to treat bacterial infection

A news story is currently circulating about a Minnesota woman who underwent a procedure to cure a potentially deadly bacterial infection. Pat Shoop, of Minnetonka, Minn., according to MSNBC, was suffering from a clostridium difficile infection, often referred to as c.diff, in 2010. After several rounds of treatment with antibiotics, her doctors told her she was running out of time and options. A rare procedure called fecal bacteriotherapy was suggested, also called fecal transfusion. In other words, she had to receive another person’s waste.

The things we do for our spouses

The typical method is to blend healthy fecal matter with saline. Then it is delivered into the small intestine via a nasogastric tube or by enema. The idea is to introduce healthy gastrointestinal bacteria, called “gut flora,” restoring the patients’ gut flora to normal, sort of like a bone marrow transplant.

Pat Shoop’s husband of 52 years, Bob, made the donation. She started responding positively within days and has been symptom-free since the procedure took place almost a year ago.

The doctor who treated her, Dr. Tim Rubin, is an expert in the procedure. Essentia Health, the Duluth, Minn., clinic where he practices has performed the procedure 119 times with a 90 percent success rate.

Nothing new

The procedure is rare but not new. The first, according to Slate, was recorded in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology in 1958, when healthy fecal matter was transplanted via an enema into four patients and cured them of pseudomembranous coliltis, a type of intestinal inflammation caused by c.diff.

A review of more than two dozen studies involving 317 patients recently appeared in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, according to MSNBC, finding a 92 percent success rate at treating c.diff with fecal transfusion.

A Canadian physician, Dr. Mike Silverman, wrote a paper in 2010 describing a home remedy version, according to ABC. Donor feces are mixed with saline in a blender and then transfused via an enema bag. His study claimed a 100 percent success rate.

Fecal transfusion, according to Wikipedia, has also shown promise in treating ulcerative colitis, Parkinson’s disease and sclerosing cholangitis, a liver disease caused by inflammatory bowel disease. It also shows promise in possibly treating obesity and diabetes by boosting insulin production in patients, according to ABC.

Chronic problem

C.diff, according to Slate, infects up to 250,000 people per year, including 20,000 estimated fatalities from 1999 to 2004. It is a common hospital-acquired infection; 13 of every 1,000 hospital patients are infected with c.diff. The typical treatment is vancomyocin, according to Slate. It costs $55 per pill and is taken four times daily for two weeks. According to MSNBC, 20 percent to 50 percent of cases don’t respond to antibiotics.

Sources

MSNBC: http://vitals.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/10/20/8419332-sounds-gross-works-great-fecal-transplants-cure-nasty-c-diff-infections

ABC: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/diarrhea-debilitating-digestive-ills-relieved-diy-fecal-transplants/story?id=13601702

Slate: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2011/01/the_enema_of_your_enemy_is_your_friend.html

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fecal_bacteriotherapy

 

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