For the estimated 3 percent of people who have Clostridium difficile bacteria living in their guts, it’s usually no big deal. C. diff. just sort of hang out, kept in check by all their other bacteria gut-mates.
But sometimes the balance of power gets messed up. Whether it’s because of old age, illness, or antibiotics, those “good” bacteria get killed off, and C. diff begins taking over—leading to diarrhea, fever, and even death.
Traditional antibiotics often don’t work against C. diff. But know what does work? Poop transplants.
Putting someone else’s poop in one’s body brings in reinforcements for the good bacteria, which whip C. diff back under control. (And the transplant is administered through a tube in your nose. Really!)
How well do these transfers work? In one study, 15 out of 16 patients who got a poop transplant recovered from their C. diff symptoms—while only four out of 13 patients on antibiotics got over their C. diff symptoms.
Want to avoid getting C. diff? Wash your hands. It makes it less likely that C. diff spores will hitch a ride into your mouth (and later—to your gut).
Check our facts!
Gould C.V., McDonald L.C. Bench-to-bedside review: Clostridium difficile colitis. Crit. Care. 2008; 12(1), 203. (DOI: 10.1186/cc6207)
Els van Nood, M.D., Anne Vrieze, M.D., Max Nieuwdorp, M.D., Ph.D., Susana Fuentes, Ph.D., Erwin G. Zoetendal, Ph.D., Willem M. de Vos, Ph.D., Caroline E. Visser, M.D., Ph.D., Ed J. Kuijper, M.D., Ph.D., Joep F.W.M. Bartelsman, M.D., Jan G.P. Tijssen, Ph.D., Peter Speelman, M.D., Ph.D., Marcel G.W. Dijkgraaf, Ph.D., and Josbert J. Keller, M.D., Ph.D. Duodenal Infusion of Donor Feces for Recurrent Clostridium difficile. N Engl J Med. 2013 January; 368:407-415 (DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1205037)
Written by Matt Shipman
Matt Shipman (@shiplives) is a public information officer at North Carolina State University and a freelance science writer. He also writes the Communication Breakdown blog, which focuses on science communication. He lives near Raleigh, in a house full of humans.
Illustrated by Caitlin Atteberry
Caitlin Atteberry is a graphic designer based in San Francisco, CA. Her non-poop-related work can be found at caitlinatteberry.com and her sometimes-poop-related tweets can be found on Twitter @attegrrrl.