How super poo will help wipe out patient's dangerous bacteria

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Faecal microbial transplants being prepared by Cairns Hospital's team.

Faecal microbial transplants being prepared by Cairns Hospital's team.

It may sound icky, but a Cairns man has received an injection of poo to potentially save his life.

Cairns Hospital this week carried out its third faecal transplant within six years, upon an 80-year-old Cairns man who has been diagnosed with a Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection.

The bacterial infection can cause severe diarrhea, nausea, fever and stomach pain.

In severe infections, the bacteria can quickly progress to fatal disease if not treated promptly.

Cairns Hospital medical registrar Dr Cathal McGowan said clinical studies had shown that faecal transplants could restore healthy bacteria in the lower intestine, which could help control C. diff and keep it from coming back.

Faecal transplants - also known as faecal microbial transplantation (FMT) – are a procedure in which healthy stool from a screened donor is processed into an FMT product, and under the supervision of a gastroenterologist, transplanted in the gut of the patient, to help improve their gastrointestinal health.

Dr McGowan said FMTs were shown to have an 80-90 per cent success rate in treating patients with C. diff, relieving symptoms of the infection, including inflammation of the colon, within a week.

He said, however, FMTs were a logistical challenge to organise for patients in Far North Queensland.

‘There is currently only one company in Australia manufacturing them, because it has to be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA),’ he said.

‘You used to be able to obtain a donor by screening them, but now there are strict processes involved, via the TGA.

‘For us to use this material, it has to be flown at -80C, and be thawed four hours beforehand and instilled in liquid form via a colonoscopy.’

Cairns Hospital Director of Gastroenterology, Dr Peter Boyd, said while there was a lot of information about FMTs online, people needed to be aware there was only strong clinical evidence the procedure was beneficial for patients diagnosed with C. diff.

‘We get people wanting FMTs for all kinds of reasons, from treating autism and weight loss through to irritable bowel syndrome, but we have to go with the evidence,’ he said.

‘There are also people out there who try to organise this themselves, but that is not advisable at all.

‘There is a lot of research on gut microbiomes and how it protects our health, but at the moment, all we can use FMTs for is treating C. diff.’