FMTs Are Better Than We Thought at Treating C. Diff

FMTs Are Better Than We Thought at Treating C. Diff

When the Beatles recorded It’s Getting Better all the Time in 1967, we’re pretty sure they weren’t referring to the growing effectiveness of fecal microbiota transplants -- or FMTs -- in treating Clostridium difficile or C.diffinfections. (Even though the first FMTs were performed on people around 1958.) But it’s true.

Those of us in the medical community (and many of you too) are well aware that FMT has about a 90% cure rate for C.diff bacterial infections. That’s big news because such infections can be lethal, especially if you’re elderly or have a compromised immune system. In 2012, C.diff sickened 347,000 Americans and 14,000 died. Despite that, the total number of FMTs performed in the U.S. remains below 500.

But a follow-up study has shown that when antibiotic treatments fail to help people with recurring C.diff., fecal transplants can prevent it for six months…and counting. So we’re wondering -- with a 90% + success rate, is it time for FMT to be the first-line treatment for C.diff.?

Side effects are virtually nonexistent; while antibiotic use contributes to development of antibiotic resistant bacterial strains such as MRSA. True, one woman became obese after receiving a FMT from her daughter (who wasn’t overweight at the time, but became so later), but that just means donors should be screened more carefully as we learn more about which gut bacteria influence good health and which contribute to health problems. Researchers are working on FMT in pill form and one day FMT may help obese people lose weight. Gutsy move!

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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