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Unconventional Transplant May Be Answer to Chronic Intestinal Infection

Unconventional Transplant May Be Answer to Chronic Intestinal Infection

Woman lying down in discomfort on a sofa, holding her stomach

Clostridium difficil is as difficult to get rid of as it is to pronounce. The intestinal infection often strikes those who are 65 or older, those with kidney disease or weakened immune systems, and those who have over used antibiotics in the past.

Known as C. diff, this strain of bacterium grows prolifically, releasing toxins that attack the lining of the intestines. The result is watery diarrhea and abdominal pain and in extreme cases, symptoms are so severe that patients are unable to work, eat or even sleep.

Traditionally doctors have treated C. diff with another antibiotic to control the infection. However, once C. diff is present in a patient’s intestinal tract it never goes away, and the infection can flare up again.

One unconventional therapy doctors at Utah Valley Hospital are using to treat C. diff is fecal transplant, which is exactly what it sounds like. Doctors take a small sample of feces from a healthy person and inject it into the colon of a C. diff patient. The healthy bacteria in the fecal transplant replaces the C. diff and restores the microbial balance of the patient’s intestine.

“This procedure makes a dramatic difference for our patients,” says Christine Thompson, Endoscopy Nurse Manager at Utah Valley Hospital. “Some patients see the effects within 12 hours of the procedure. After months of suffering with chronic diarrhea and pain, they are able to experience real relief.”

Not just anyone can donate for the procedure. Someone who lives in the same household as the patient is preferred, and all donors must pass a hepatitis screening before they are approved.

After a donor has been identified, he or she delivers a stool sample to the hospital where techs thin it with a normal saline solution. Once the solution is thin enough to send through a scope, it’s hooked to a pump and is ready to be transplanted.

In the meantime, the C-diff patient is prepped for a colonoscopy. The physician then sends a scope into the patient’s intestine, just as if the patient were having a colonoscopy. At the top of the colon the doctor inserts the bacteria and distributes it throughout the colon, allowing the “good” bacteria to take root and crowd out the C. diff.

Kurt Bodily, MD, a gastroenterologist who has performed the procedure on several patients says, “Although fecal transplant doesn’t sound appealing, it’s proven very effective for our patients. The difference it makes can be life-changing.”