Medicine is a mysterious thing sometimes. The unmistakeable efficacy of using fecal transplants to cure tough bacterial infections counts as one of those times. Gastroenterologists are warming to the treatment which has been around at least since the fourth century, and a new study from the Netherlands shows that it's the most effective for the notoriously resilient Clostridium difficile bacteria. C. difficile infections are often caused by antibiotics and causes uncontrollable vomiting, diarrhea and fever. In the study, only 3 out of 13 and 4 out of 13 in two comparison groups of patients with C. difficile infections were cured using antibiotics. Fecal transplants cured an impressive 15 out of 16.
The treatment is as gross as it sounds which is part of the reason why it's never been very popular. Feces from a healthy person is mixed with saline to create a solution that the head of the Dutch study says resembles chocolate milk. It's then flushed into the infected person's intestinal tract using an enema or a colonoscope. Sometimes its pumped into the stomach via a tube run through the nose. As The New York Times explains in a front page story due out on Thursday, doctors aren't entirely sure why the technique works. "Stool can contain hundreds or even thousands of types of bacteria, and researchers do not yet know which ones have the curative powers," reports Denise Grady. "So for now, feces must be used pretty much intact."
So that's pretty gross. C. difficile also sounds pretty horrible. The good news is that researchers in Canada recently came up with a synthetic solution of bacteria found in feces that they hope will prove to be as effective as the real thing. They call it "rePOOPulate."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.