Providence, R.I. (CBS CONNECTICUT) — A procedure that inserts fecal matter from a healthy person into the intestines of someone with diarrhea has been found to be a better treatment than antibiotics.
A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine tested the transplant of healthy fecal material into patients experiencing repeated bouts of diarrhea caused by a bacterium known as Clostridium difficile. A bacteria that can frequently take over the intestines after antibiotic treatment has killed the beneficial bacteria in the body.
“This is the first hard evidence that has been provided for the treatment,” senior author Dr. Josbert Keller of the University of Amsterdam told Reuters Health.
The study found that a single transplant of fecal material from a healthy volunteer into someone afflicted with diarrhea cured the problem in 13 of the 16 volunteers. On the other hand, antibiotic treatment only worked in four of the 13 study participants.
Nearly 3 million people in the U.S. are infected with the “C difficile” diarrhea each year, and it commonly spreads in hospitals, doctors offices and nursing home search indicates. In past studies, antibiotics typically worked in 15 to 26 percent of patients with C. diff., and following repeated rounds of treatment, the drugs’ effect is greatly diminished.
“Those of us who do it know how effective it is,” Dr. Colleen Kelly of Brown University’s Alpert Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island, who was not connected with the study but uses fecal transplant in her practice, told Reuters. “I’ve done 90 of these now in the last four and a half years. In patient after patient who has failed multiple courses of antibiotic, if you give them a dose of stool, they get better.”
The researchers conceded that although the feces transplants sound distasteful, the long-term benefits should outweigh a patient’s disgust with the process.
“I think the ‘yuck’ thing is overplayed, and there’s a desperation when you’re this sick this long,” Kelly told Reuters. “The patients were desperate because they had had several episodes. There was nothing else they could do. There was no psychological hurdle for them.”
Of the volunteers in the antibiotic groups who had a relapse of C. diff, 18 were later given a fecal transplant. It cured 15 of them, but four of the 15 needed an additional treatment. And although 94 percent of the patients reported various side effects, all symptoms disappeared within three hours of the transplant.