Clostridium Difficile and Stool Transplants

The rise of “super-infections” has led to imaginative (and unappetizing) ways to introduce “healthy” bacteria into patients’ systems

Prevent antibiotics from harming you by developing good bacteria

With Clostridium difficile and other super-infections, a healthy stool transplant is often the best, if somewhat gross, solution

Fair warning, readers: those of you who get easily upset by touchy material may not want to read on. Because this article is about, well, I’m not sure how to put it — okay, it’s about “poop.”

To be perfectly honest, this isn’t about real poop but ersatz poop, fake poop, or as the researchers refer to it, “a substitute stool mixture.”

Anyway, here’s the background: One of the severest threats from the use of antibiotics is to develop a complication with a “super-infection” due to a bacteria called Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, for short.

What is a Clostridium Difficile Infection?

C. diff infections used to be rare and happened primarily to very sick people taking powerful antibiotics. But over the last few years, infections with this organism have not only become much more common, especially in hospital settings, but even more worrying, these infections now occur in quickly rising numbers outside hospitals and not just in people on powerful medications.

That’s a huge worry because these infections produce copious diarrhea, which can not only result in a life-threatening situation for someone with an already weakened immune system, but it can even play havoc with the health of a previously well person.

Healthy Bacteria and Stool Transplants

Interestingly, though, the risk of C. diff infections seems to be significantly lower in people who harbour enough healthy bacteria in their own gut. This is why many experts believe that anyone taking antibiotics ought to load up on probiotics at the same time, although the jury is still out as to the effectiveness of that strategy. But hey, there’s really no downside to eating lots of yogurt, is there?

Since probiotics still have a limited effectiveness, researchers have been trying to find another way to introduce “healthy” bacteria into people with C. diff. To that end, some bright thinker came up with the idea that a terrific way to introduce healthy bacteria into someone’s gut is to give them a “transplant” of a stool specimen from a healthy person.

Here’s the even more interesting thing. Following success with that approach, and given the obvious “yuck factor” involved in this kind of work, some equally bright entrepreneurial researchers have come up with the idea to manufacture “fake” healthy poop. They do this by taking stool samples from a healthy volunteer and “cleaning it,” leaving a product that contains 33 strains of healthy bacteria, which they then transplant into the sick person. According to a recent posting, most patients who received the synthetic stuff got back to normal bowel movements within two or three days of their treatment, which is nothing short of amazing.

By the way, these researchers have dubbed their terrific life-saving product — no kidding — rePoopulate. Fine way to end this, don’t you agree?

Dr. Art Hister is a medical writer and health analyst for Global TV.

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