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Fecal Transplant May Treat Stubborn C. diff

Study Shows Procedure Can End Symptoms of Diarrhea
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 31, 2011 -- It may sound gross, but using fecal transplants can treat stubborn intestinal infections caused by the bug Clostridium difficile(C. diff).

As the name implies, fecal transplant involves taking the stool of a healthy person and putting it into the colon of an infected person. The goal is to restore the natural balance of good and bad bugs in the gut and eliminate the bothersome diarrhea.

"Ick" factor aside, it works, a new study suggests. "Fecal transplantation is a highly effective, well tolerated, and safe form of therapy for this traditionally difficult infection," study researcher Lawrence Brandt, MD, emeritus, chief of gastroenterology at Montefiore Medical Center, tells WebMD.

His team found that 91% of 77 patients who received the transplants got rid of their diarrhea, sometimes within three days, after one treatment.

The research is being presented at this week's American College of Gastroenterology's annual scientific meeting in Washington, D.C.

The procedure is technically called fecal microbiota therapy (FMT).

About 500,000 people in the U.S. are infected with potentially life-threatening C. diff each year, usually after taking antibiotics, Brandt says. Doctors think the antibiotics upset the natural gut balance and trigger the C. diff growth.

Many patients are elderly and in hospitals or nursing homes. C. diff live on bathroom fixtures and medical equipment. The bacteria can be spread person to person from contaminated hospital equipment or from the hands of health care providers.

However, recent research finds that hospital-acquired C. diff has leveled off while C. diff  in the community is on the rise. For some, the typical round of antibiotics targeted to treat the C. diff infection does not provide relief. Or, it provides short-term relief and the infection returns.

Tracking Results of FMT

Brandt and his colleagues tracked down 77 C. diff patients -- 56 women and 21 men -- who had FMT done at least three months before at five different centers. The average follow-up time was 17 months and ranged from three months to more than five years.

Their average age was 65.

The patients had had the infection an average of 11 months before undergoing the FMT. They had, on average, taken five courses of antibiotics or other treatments without relief.

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