The Last-Ditch Method To Fight Intestinal Superbug?
Now a small but growing number of doctors are trying a last-ditch treatment: Using good bacteria to fight off the bad by transplanting stool from a healthy person into the sick person's colon.
Yes, there's a yuck factor. But reports of several dozen cases in a medical journal and at a meeting of the nation's gastroenterologists this fall suggest that with no more inconvenience than a colonoscopy, people who have suffered C-diff for months, or longer, can rapidly improve.
"This is the ultimate probiotic," says Dr. Lawrence Brandt of New York's Montefiore Medical Center, who has performed 17 of the procedures.
Yet it's much more complex: An entire bacterial neighborhood is transplanted.
"C-diff, formally named Clostridium difficile, has become a menace in the nation's hospitals, and can spread outside of them, too. Some patients suffer just mild diarrhea, but others, especially older adults weakened by previous illness, can develop a more severe condition called colitis. There aren't precise counts but some government estimates suggest C-diff may be responsible for as many as 15,000 deaths yearly."
Up to a third of patients experience a second infection, and some go on to suffer recurrent bouts. Those worst-case patients are put on increasingly strong doses of the powerful antibiotic vancomycin for weeks, even months, at a time, treatments that Brandt says can cost $2,500 or more with each try.