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BBC News covered an article yesterday on a new procedure to combat Clostridium difficile disease. The thought of a faecal transplant may be shocking and hugely offputting, but it could turn out to be the answer to this deadly bacterial disease. It is thought that Dr Alisdair MacConnachie is the only doctor in the UK to have carried out the procedure as of yet; he describes it as a treatment proven to work as a last resort.
Clostridium difficile disease (C. diff) is caused by an overgrowth of the bacteria in question, C. difficile, which when present in small numbers in the gut can live without causing harm to the body. However when the bacteria is allowed to overgrow, (often when a patient has been taking antibiotics - which diminish probiotics in the body), the pathogenic bacteria quickly overpopulate in the gut and produce toxins which lead to intense, frequent diarrhoea. The disease is hugely under-reported and can be fatal.
The most common treatment method for C. diff is antibiotics - although due to the nature of the disease, these can cause further imbalance in the gut and ultimately lead to recurring infection. This is why many people believe probiotics to be of help alongside the antibiotic treatment, in order to replenish the body's natural friendly bacteria levels. It is a similar theory that drives the idea of a faecal transplant. Generally faecal matter of a relative will be used, preferably one who lives with the patient, as they are more likely to have similar gut flora. A small amount is taken and mixed wth salt water before being transplanted to reach the patient's bowels.
When asked why more doctors do not carry out this procedure if it is so successful, Dr MacConnachie said 'It sounds disgusting, it is disgusting and I think people are probably worried about approaching patients and discussing it.'
There has been an average success rate of about 90%, although the practice has only been carried out a small number of times. The BBC article quite rightly states that a large, randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trial would be preferable before the practice of fecal transplants can be widely adopted. However, demand is understandably high, and increasing - for a potential cure of a deadly superbug. Read the full article on BBC.