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Studies show fecal transplant's effectiveness treating C. diff infections

Clostridium difficile infections could pose a big problem for patients staying at hospitals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls the infection caused by the bacteria -- dubbed C. diff -- a healthcare-associated infection, because some of those most at risk are people who get medical care.

New research backs a type of therapy that may sound odd to some - fecal microbiota therapy, also known as fecal transplants.

C. difficile causes diarrhea linked to 14,000 American deaths each year, says the CDC. Those infected with the bacteria have symptoms that may include diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, nausea and abdominal pain.

The bacteria are found in feces, and people can get infected if they touch contaminated items or surfaces then touch their mouths. Health care workers may especially transfer the bacteria to patients.

Studies presented this week at American College of Gastroenterology's annual meeting in Las Vegas found the bacteria is associated with serious problems in hospitalized children and might be helped by the fecal transplant therapy.

One study, from the Mayo Clinic, looked at C. difficile infections, specifically in children. Of the estimated 13.7 million kids hospitalizated from 2005 to 2009, the researchers found 46,176 cases -- 0.34 percent -- had the infection. Children with the infection were an average age of 3 years old.

The researchers found kids with C. diff were hospitalized on average for six days compared to two days for kids without the bacteria. Children with the infection were five times more likely to need a surgical procedure on their colon called a colectomy than other hospitalized children. Kids with C. diff were also more than twice as likely to need to be discharged to a long-term care facility and were more than 2.5 times likely to die than other hospitalized kids.

"Despite increased awareness of C. difficile infection (CDI) in children and advancements in management of C. difficile infection and infection prevention and control practices, this study suggests that CDI remains as major problem in hospitalized children," study author Dr. Sahil Khanna, a gastroenterology researcher at The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said in written statement. "In hospitalized children C. difficile infection can be a major cause of morbidity and mortality."

That what can help? Also presented at the conference was a case of a 20-month old male infant with C. diff infection who had a two-month history of diarrhea and other health problems.

Internal medicine doctors from Sinai Hospital-Johns Hopkins Program turned to a fecal microbiota transplantation, a procedure in which a stool is taken from a healthy person and transplanted into the colon of the infected person. The idea is the transplanted feces restore the natural balance of "good and bad bugs" in the colon and eliminate the life-threatening diarrhea. After receiving the donated stool from his mother, the patient remained symptom-free for more than three months later.

"This case demonstrates the therapeutic potential of fecal bacteriotherapy in pediatric patients who fail standard therapy for C. difficile infection," said case co-author Dr. Sudhir Dutta of the hospital.

Another recent study found the procedure may be highly effective in other patients.

The study, presented Oct. 19 at the Infectious Diseases Society of America meeting in San Diego, found the fecal transplant to be highly effective. Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit found 43 out of 49 patients who received the transplants recovered swiftly and had no complications three months later.

"More than 90 percent of the patients in our study were cured of their C.diff infection," study author Dr. Mayur Ramesh, an infectious disease researcher at the hospital, said in a press release. "This treatment is a viable option for patients who are not responding to conventional treatment and who want to avoid surgery."

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