Canada Medical Procedure: Fecal Transplant Saves Lives
Squeamish doctors afraid to use fecal enemas to treat a deadly gut infection could be putting people's lives at risk, warns a local emergency physician who studies immunology.
Dr. Louis Francescutti, of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research, says the procedure is most tastefully referred to as a "fecal transplant."
The somewhat controversial procedure uses a slurry of human feces and saline solution to regrow healthy bacteria in a sick person's lower intestine by pumping it into the rectum through an enema tube.
The treatment is highly effective in treating the same Clostridium difficile infections that killed thousands of Quebecers in recent years, says Francescutti.
Called "c.dif" for short, the infection causes diarrhea so severe people can end up in the bathroom up to 40 times per day.
It's the result of an overgrowth of the c.dif bacteria, which can happen if antibiotics inadvertently eradicate healthy bacteria in the gut.
Because c.dif is resistant to the antibiotics, it survives and takes over the intestine, breaking down everything inside the bowel at lightning speed.
The traditional therapy for c.dif has been the drug vancomycin, which re-establishes the balance of bacteria in the gut.
But that treatment is slow and tenuous: patients can suffer for several months as their bodies attempt to repair the damage.
Francescutti says the fecal transplant - which implants healthy, disease-free feces from another family member - has proven to be 90% effective, and can repair the intestine in a matter of days.
There is currently only one Calgary doctor who performs the procedure in Alberta.
"The medical community doesn't like to explore it because we're talking about s--t. But it's the ultimate transplant," Francescutti said.
Don Peters, 75, of Edmonton, barely survived a four-month c.dif infection last year before the fecal transplant procedure was being investigated.
"It sounds disgusting, and my doctor today isn't sold on it. But c.dif is a bugger to get rid of.
"There were weeks when I never stopped having diarrhea. After what I went through, I wouldn't rule it out in the future."
According to Statistics Canada, at least 2,227 people died from complications due to c.dif infections between 2001 and 2004.