What is a fecal transplant? The definition of fecal: “relating to or composed of feces.” The definition of feces: “the matter that is discharged from the bowel during defecation; excrement.” So, what’s a “fecal transplant”? It’s a legitimate and effective medical treatment that has been around for about fifty years in the United States that is being used to treat patients with persistent gastrointestinal infections that keep recurring by transplanting feces from a donor into the patient’s gut in an effort to restore the normal balance of healthy bacteria in the gut.
While medical studies of fecal transplants are ongoing in major medical centers in the United States, a Dutch study published on January 16, 2013 found that most patients with serious, recurrent infections caused by the bacterium known as C. diff (C. difficile) improved when the feces of donors were transplanted into their intestines. In the Dutch study, 13 of 16 patients who were given a fecal transplant had their symptoms (diarrhea) resolve. Two of the remaining patients got better after a second fecal transplant from a different donor. In contrast, 4 of 13 patients who received antibiotic treatment recovered (another 3 of the 13 recovered after receiving vancomycin with bowel lavage). The study was halted earlier than anticipated when the patients undergoing fecal transplants improved significantly better than patients undergoing standard antibiotic therapy.
The study’s conclusion? “After donor-feces infusion, patients showed increased fecal bacterial diversity, similar to that in healthy donors, with an increase in Bacteroidetes species and clostridium clusters IV and XIVa and a decrease in Proteobacteria species …. The infusion of donor feces was significantly more effective for the treatment of recurrent C. difficile infection than the use of vancomycin.” Source
Clostridium difficile, which is also referred to as C. difficile or C. diff, is a bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. C. diff most commonly affects older patients in hospitals or residents in long term care facilities and typically occurs after use of antibiotics. In recent years, C. diff infections have become more frequent, more severe, and more difficult to treat, affecting tens of thousands of people in the United States each year, including some otherwise healthy people who were not hospitalized or taking antibiotics. About one-fourth of people with C. diff have a recurrence because the initial infection never resolved or because of reinfection with a different strain of C. diff.
Patients diagnosed with C. diff are usually ordered to immediately stop taking the antibiotic that triggered their infection, which may relieve symptoms in some cases. However, the standard treatment for C. difficile is another antibiotic such as metronidazole (Flagyl), for mild to moderate symptoms, or Vancomycin (Vancocin), for more severe symptoms, which prevent C. diff from growing and allows the normal bacteria to flourish in the intestine again.
The most common symptoms of mild to moderate C. diff are watery diarrhea three or more times a day for two or more days and mild abdominal cramping and tenderness. More serious cases of C. diff may cause inflammation of the colon (colitis) or formation of areas of raw tissue that can bleed or produce pus (pseudomembranous colitis). The signs and symptoms of severe C. diff infection include watery diarrhea 10 to 15 times a day; abdominal cramping and pain, which may be severe; fever; blood or pus in the stool; nausea; dehydration; loss of appetite; and, weight loss.
The number of deaths from C. diff increased from 3,000 during 1999-2000 to 14,000 between 2006-2007, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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