In this day and age, if you’re missing something, you can probably get it from somebody else’s body. Need some bone marrow? Get a transplant. Missing a good kidney? Here's one. Missing some hair on your head? Take some from the back and plant it on top where it belongs! And if you’re missing some important digestive bacteria, just get someone to donate some healthy poop!
We’ll get back to that in a second. First, I’d like to introduce you to a nasty strain of bacteria called Clostridium difficile (also known as C. diff or by it’s rap name, C. Diffy). Your digestive tract is home to hundreds of different types of useful bacteria, but if C. diff gets in there and is allowed to run wild Hulkamania-style, it’s toxins can wreak havoc on your large intestine, attacking it with toxins and causing a combination of colitis (inflammation of your colon) and diarrhea up to fifteen times a day, which is almost as much as David Schwimmer said "juice" in The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story.
C. diff infects a fairly specific clientele, namely those with already-compromised immune systems. This is why the bacteria can run rampant in hospitals if strict sanitary precautions aren’t taken, as well as amongst old people, who may have compromised immune systems. It can also affect those who have taken large doses of antibiotics, which can sometimes clear out enough of the good bacteria in your colon to allow C. diff to thrive and cause symptoms like fever, loss of appetite, nausea and, consequently, a sore-backside.
How do we stop it?
Antibiotics (not antigravity) are the standard treatment for a Clostridium difficile infection, with names that are fun to say like Flagyl, Dificid, and Vancocin. These drugs have a 75% success rate, which pales in comparison with the 90% of cases solved in test trials of the aforementioned new treatment method that involves a healthy person donating their valuable poop.
It’s called a Fecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT) and the procedure is quite elegant in it’s simplicity (as elegant as a poop swap can be). It involves taking a stool sample full of good, natural gut bacteria from a healthy, non-C. diff’ infected individual, mixing it with saline and then placing it in the colitis patient’s colon. The good bacteria are able to reclaim digestive domain and the patient can once again poop in peace. It's not pretty (like some other things), but it works.
Many health researchers are excited by the possibilities that poop-swapping could have on C. diff treatments moving forward and they are conducting dozens of test trials right now, across North America. Doctors are also optimistic that fecal transplants will one day be used to fight other gastrointestinal disorders and maybe even obesity.
Some people may even recommend a fecal transplant as a remedy for a fever or the common cold, but they’re probably not a doctor if they do. It’s probably just aunt on another one of her weird health kicks.
Are you fascinated by the grossology of biology and want to know more? Well, have you ever wondered why some animals eat poo? or whether or not you could (or should) drink your own pee?