A new way to cure a deadly infection with a poop pill

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Clostridium difficile successfully treated with feces in a pill
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Clostridium difficile or C. diff is sometimes difficult to treat and has been a concern for clinicians. Now there is a pill that transplants beneficial fecal bacteria into patients to help cure the disease - or otherwise it is a 'poop' pill.

Researchers had discovered so-called 'poop transplant' could help patients recover from the disease. But the treatment of infectious diarrhea was far from savory for many patients with past techniques.

Now scientists have put fecal bacteria in a pill that they say is a "highly effective" way to get rid of the infection that causes diarrhea that can be severe and often occurs after taking antibiotics that wipe out normal gut flora.

Since the 1970's C.diff has become more resistant to antibiotics and the infection has become more severe.

The Center's for Disease Control (CDC) has made treating C. difficile a top priority, highlighting the scope of the its cost and death toll from drug resistance in a recent report.

Some patients that seem to be successfully treated with standard drugs such as Vancomycin experience relapse.

The infection also spreads easily among hospitalized and nursing home patients and is highly infectious.

The pill to treat the disease is a better option to taking a feces enema or having poop instilled into the gut via a nasogastric tube, though researchers say the treatment worked very well.

It worked so well in fact that the FDA, in June of this year, eased their restrictions on allowing physicians to perform fecal transplants without their approval - which in some instances could take up to 30-days while patients suffered. Fecal transplants could also only be used on those who failed to respond to other treatments.

“Many people might find the idea of fecal transplantation off-putting, but those with recurrent infection are thankful to have a treatment that works,” said Thomas Louie, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and the study’s lead author. “Recurrent C difficile infection is such a miserable experience and patients are so distraught that many ask for fecal transplantation because they've heard of its success.”

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Here is a helpful overview of Clostridium difficile that was presented on the popular TV show "The Doctors"

How are poop pills made?

Just like a poop transplant given in an enema or down a tube into the gut, a donor is used - usually a family member. The scientists processed the feces until all that remained was healthy bacteria that can then populate in the intestines to stop Clostridium difficile.

Otherwise, our feces contains a variety of other waste products including indigestible food matter such as cellulose, dead bacteria, cholesterol and other inorganic and organic material.

There is even a little bit of protein in our excrement in addition to the bad smell that comes from hydrogen sulfide.

So you can see why a feces pill that contains only bacteria and is sterile is a much better option to help people battling the infection.

For their testing, researchers gave patients 24 and 34 capsules containing fecal bacteria that primarily came from family members. The results yielded almost a 100 percent success rate even though all patients had suffered at least 4 bouts of the infection.

Just one patient treated had a "mild" relapse of the infection. The treatment was well tolerated, the researchers said.

The finding is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The researchers say it's possible that making pills from feces could also help patients on strong antibiotics avoid Clostridium difficile altogether, but there are questions about whether poop pills could be manufactured on a large scale.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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