As the number of C. difficile cases increase due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, researchers are looking at unusual ways to treat these infection — specifically, giving patients pills containing frozen feces.
C. difficile can cause severe diarrhea, bloating, and fever; managing infections costs the U.S. about $3.2 billion each year, and the germ is involved in close to 14,000 U.S. deaths annually, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Researchers have had luck with fecal transplants in the past because a healthy person's gut bacteria is able to get the sick person's GI tract back in order. In one study last year, 16 patients received fecal transplants (fresh stool and salted water) via nasal tubes into their small intestines, and for 13 of them, the infections cleared up in one treatment. Another group that took gelatin capsules filled with compacted fecal matter saw improvement in 31 out of 32 patients. (Don't gag: the patients didn't smell or taste anything.)
For a person who needs a transplant right away, it can be extremely difficult to quickly get a fresh, tested fecal sample. A team from Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Tel Aviv University decided to try freezing the samples; after the feces was put into a blender with saline and strained, the concentrate was put into 1.6 gram capsules that were frozen at 112 degrees below zero. Then, 20 patients with mild to moderate C. difficile infections took 15 pills a day for two days in a row; 14 of those patients stopped having diarrhea.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
Researchers think this could make fecal transplants more broadly accessible and potentially even safer. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and presented on Saturday at IDWeek in Philadelphia.
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.