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Faeces transplant: The best cure for severe diarrhoea may be more faeces

11 May 2018 - 06:00 By Nora Shelly
The faecal microbiota transplant is a better alternative to most antibiotics.
The faecal microbiota transplant is a better alternative to most antibiotics.
Image: 123RF/Andriano

A faeces transplant may work better than antibiotics for treatment of life-threatening diarrhoea.

This is according to a team of Wits researchers‚ who published a study this month on faecal microbiota transplants. The procedure involves transferring treated faecal matter from one person to another in an attempt to replenish “normal flora” in the gut.

The procedure‚ which inserts the donor faeces through a nasal tube or via a colonoscopy‚ can be used to treat an increasingly common condition‚ Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhoea.

The condition is most commonly spread in healthcare facilities and often affects those who have had antibiotic treatments which‚ according to researcher Warren Lowman‚ can disrupt the normal flora‚ or microbiota‚ in the gut.

WATCH | Fecal Microbial Transplantation: A Treatment for Clostridium Difficile

Kay Karlsson‚ another researcher on the study — reported in the South African Medical Journal — said microbiota could have a significant effect on a person’s health. “Your microbiota may be your driving force for many other illnesses‚” she said.

Clostridium difficile is often first treated with a course of antibiotics‚ Karlsson said‚ but recurrence rates are high. According to the study‚ a faecal microbiota transplant can be an effective treatment for those who suffer from a relapse.

For the transplant‚ the patient can find a family member or friend willing to give a stool sample‚ or use an anonymous donor. The sample is mixed with water and saline and filtered before being transplanted into the patient. The study admits that “the idea of the procedure is an obstacle to some”.

“I think it’s a kind of‚ people don’t like handling poo‚ [so] if they can do it another way they do it another way‚” Karlsson told TimesLIVE.

Over a decade ago‚ Karlsson performed what she believes was the first faecal microbiota transplant in the country. Now‚ she says‚ it seems like more people are beginning to catch on to the procedure.

The transplant is a better alternative to most antibiotics‚ Karlsson said‚ although a new‚ more effective drug recently introduced to South Africa may lower the risk of the infection returning.

The study concludes that there is an “urgent need” for the healthcare industry to address the risks of antibiotic prescriptions.

“I think we all need to be more aware‚ and I think patients need to be a lot more reluctant to pop antibiotics‚” Karlsson said. “They don’t always realise that they can actually cause harm.”