A new way to fight deadly bacteria
In just a few hours, common bacteria, lurking in hospitals and nursing homes, can invade a person’s digestive tract causing debilitating and potentially life-threatening illness.
That’s the finding of a new study, published this week in the journal Infection and Immunity, by a research team from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The team studied mice that had received antibiotic therapy before being infected with Clostridium difficile or C. diff. Antibiotics can make an individual more susceptible to C. diff infections by destroying good bacteria with the bad and disrupting the microbiological environment inside the gastrointestinal tract.
C. diff infections result in symptoms ranging from diarrhea, dehydration and abdominal cramps, to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. Older adults who are hospitalized and individuals who have suppressed immune systems or have been on antibiotic medications are most susceptible to the infection.
One innovative treatment that has shown some success against C. diff colitis has been the transfer of fecal matter from a healthy donor, often a spouse or a member of the patient’s family, to the patient. This helps repopulate the patient’s colon with good bacteria to fight the infection.
“Our experience – and what’s in the literature – indicates that fecal transplants are effective,” says Dr. Brian Blumenstein, a gastroenterologist at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. He’s performed the procedure at the hospital.
The technique involves mixing a small amount of fecal matter taken from a donor into a saline solution. The solution is then injected into the patient’s intestines during a simple colonoscopy. The entire treatment takes only about a half hour to 45 minutes and is performed while a patient is under light anesthesia. The patient is able to go home soon after awakening.
Donors participating in fecal transplants are carefully tested and screened to ensure that no infectious agents are inadvertently transmitted to the patient during treatment.
“C. diff infection results in upwards of 14,000 deaths annually and $4.8 billion in excess health care costs in the United States,” the research team reported in the study. “Use of antibiotics is a primary risk factor for developing C. diff infection due to a loss of the protective effects of the gut microbiota.”
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