Poop transplants work as well as antibiotics to treat a common and deadly cause of diarrhea, and perhaps even better, researchers reported Saturday.
Their small and unusual study suggests that doctors should try fecal transplants right off when patients in the hospital get infected with Clostridium difficile, a frequent cause of diarrhea in frail and sick patients.
Their carefully cultivated and curated samples cured half the patients who tried them right away, the Norwegian team reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.
And most of those that weren’t cured with a single transplant saw their diarrhea clear up when they were given antibiotics later.
“This was a small trial, but the results suggest that fecal microbiota transplantation may be an alternative to antibiotic therapy in primary C. difficile infection,” Dr. Frederick Juul of Oslo University Hospital and colleagues wrote in a letter to the New England Journal.
C. difficile, C. diff for short, is an increasingly common danger to patients in the hospital.
C. difficile infections kill 29,000 Americans a year and make 450,000 sick in the U.S. alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It causes unremitting diarrhea, which can weaken patients being treated for pneumonia, cancer and other illnesses.
Right now, antibiotics can make patients even sicker because they kill not only the C. difficile, but so-called good bacteria that keep things in balance. Once other bacteria are killed off, C. diff, as it’s commonly known, can come back and even proliferate — without competition.
Poop transplants aim to restore the balance with healthy bacteria.
They’ve been used for years, but there are disagreements over how best to deliver the fecal matter and also on when to use them.
The Food and Drug Administration allows doctors to use them if patients have had repeated C. diff infections that haven’t been helped by antibiotics.
The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) recommend using them as a last-resort treatment after repeated bouts of C. diff.