Harvard Women's Health Watch

New approach is successful in treating antibiotic-resistant diarrhea

Researchers at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital have used capsules containing frozen fecal extracts from healthy people to successfully treat diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile bacteria (called C. diff for short), which has been developing increasing resistance to antibiotic treatment. The report was published online on Oct. 11, 2014, in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

People who are already being treated with antibiotics in hospitals are prone to antibiotic-resistant C. diff infections. Antibiotic treatment often wipes out populations of beneficial intestinal bacteria, making it easier for C. diff to take hold in the colon, where it creates toxins that cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Because antibiotic treatments are usually ineffective, diarrhea may last for weeks and pose serious risks.

In earlier experiments, the researchers took fecal extracts from healthy people and used colonoscopy to introduce them into the colons of people with C. diff. These "fecal transplants" had a success rate of about 90% because they provided new colonies of beneficial bacteria, which crowded out the nasty invader. However, colonoscopy isn't the most comfortable procedure to undergo.

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