FECAL TRANSPLANT: Poop Donor Treats Infection

We have trillions of bacteria in our body. Most are good, but some are bad. And, the bad ones can make us really sick, especially if the medicine to kill it doesn’t work.

But there’s another option for a common infection found in hospitals around the country.

Spend any time in the hospital, and you’ll hear about it. Dr. Ricardo Arbulu, McFarland Clinic Infectious Disease Specialist, says, “C. diff is an infection, so it is caused by bacterium that affects the human gut.”

And, Clostridium Difficile, known as C. diff, is something you don’t want to get. Dr. Bryan Graveline, McFarland Clinic Gastroenterologist, says, “People have a lot of cramping, diarrhea and can actually get quite ill from it.”

Dr. Graveline goes on to says, “The traditional way to treat it has been with antibiotics that will kill the C. diff, but unfortunately it also kills the good bacteria.”

That leaves patients open for recurrent infections, which leads to more pain, longer hospital stays and possibly death. But, there’s an alternative to antibiotics.

Dr. Arbulu says, “A fecal transplant.”

That’s right: a fecal transplant, but don’t dismiss it as gross just yet. “For patients, they’re usually suffering very badly. They’re almost universally very happy to give this a try,” Dr. Graveline says.

Fecal transplants have been around for decades, but were not very common. Two years ago, McFarland Clinic doctors started an innovative approach at Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames after hearing how physicians made the process more efficient in northern Europe. They found one donor to screen for disease, then they froze their samples. Dr. Graveline says, “It’s probably a Mary Greeley or McFarland Clinic employee, but it is totally anonymous.”

The poo is processed, frozen and stored until needed. Workers test a sample to make sure it’s still good, then deliver it as an enema in the patient’s room. Dr. Graveline says, “It’s very effective and indeed it works very quickly. The cure rate is around 90%, and it usually works within about 24 hours or so.”

Forty patients found relief with the treatment in the past year at Mary Greeley.

Federal regulations only allow it in patients who have recurring infections for now. Dr. Graveline says, “There’s certainly a lot of demand for it because it is a not uncommon disease people get and the treatments are very sub-par except for the transplant.”

Doctors don’t charge for the fecal transplant at Mary Greeley. They say it can save money because it’s cheaper than antibiotics and helps the patient heal faster and hopefully leave the hospital sooner.



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