Fecal transplant pill may stop recurrent C. difficile infection

Taking pills containing a concentration of fecal bacteria may knock out recurrent bouts of Clostridium difficile infection by rebalancing gut bacteria, according to a study presented on Friday at IDWeek 2013.

Fecal transplantation uses the feces from healthy donors to treat patients with an imbalance of bacteria in their gastrointestinal system, such as in patients infected with C. difficile. According to published reports, fecal transplantation is effective in nine out of 10 patients.

The treatment is typically delivered by enema, colonoscopy or nose tube. The new research suggests a less-invasive pill approach could be an effective and viable delivery method.

"Recurrent C. diff infection is such a miserable experience and patients are so distraught that many ask for fecal transplantation because they've heard of its success," Thomas Louie, the lead author of the study, said. "Many people might find the idea of fecal transplantation off-putting, but those with recurrent infection are thankful to have a treatment that works."

Patients infected with C. diff can have 20 or more stools per day. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the infection sickens half a million Americans and kills 14,000 each year. The infection can occur after people take antibiotics, which wipe out the good bacteria in the gastrointestinal system allowing C. diff to spread.

According to the study, researchers found that none of the 27 patients who took a tablet-sized pill experienced a recurrence of C. diff. The patients took between 24 and 34 capsules containing fecal bacteria, typically donated by family members.

"The pills are a one-shot deal and seem to work," Louie said. "They are easier for patients and are well-tolerated. It's an exciting development in the field and could possibly even be used to maintain the balance of bacteria in the GI system in patients at risk for C. difficile."