Fecal Transplants Are Not Only a Thing, But They're Also Very Effective

First of all, did you know fecal transplants are a thing? They are. And not only that, they're an effective cure for a potentially fatal intestinal infection resistant to antibiotics. As The New York Times tactfully reports:

A new study finds that such transplants cured 15 of 16 people who had recurring infections with Clostridium difficile bacteria, whereas antibiotics cured only 3 of 13 and 4 of 13 patients in two comparison groups. The treatment appears to work by restoring the gut's normal balance of bacteria, which fight off C. difficile.

Apparently, fecal transplants have been around for a while but usually they're combined with antibiotics and used as a last option to combat the bacteria, which kills some 14,000 people a year in the US. But how do shit transplants work? Here, again, the Times explains:

It involves diluting stool with a liquid, like salt water, and then pumping it into the intestinal tract via an enema, a colonoscope or a tube run through the nose into the stomach or small intestine.

Stool can contain hundreds or even thousands of types of bacteria, and researchers do not yet know which ones have the curative powers. So for now, feces must be used pretty much intact.

Despite the treatment's success rate – and perhaps because of the procedure's grossness – there were no shortage of fecal transplant doubters, according to the study's senior author, Dr. Josbert Keller.

"After the first four or five patients, we started thinking, ‘We can't go on doing this kind of obscure treatment without evidence,' " Dr. Keller said. "Everybody is laughing about it."

But with the success of the new study, non-experts are starting to come around.

"Those of us who do fecal transplant know how effective it is," said Dr. Colleen R. Kelly, a gastroenterologist with the Women's Medicine Collaborative in Providence, R.I., who was not part of the Dutch study. "The tricky part has been convincing everybody else."

She added, "This is an important paper, and hopefully it will encourage people to change their practice patterns and offer this treatment more."

The treatment is so effective that one of Dr. Kelly's patients' symptoms cleared up in just one day. And there's more good news for those of you who don't enjoy "the unpleasantness of dealing with stool specimens"; scientists are working on isolating the effective bacteria within the feces, hopefully sparing future patients the indignity of an actual shit transfer.

[Image via Shutterstock]