12 Investigates: Curing the superbug with fecal transplants

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - There's a medical breakthrough practiced in our area that is changing lives, but a warning - it may also make you queasy just to think about it.

It's estimated C. diff will sicken half a million Americans this year. It's a potentially fatal infection called Clostridium difficile or C. diff for short.

It attacks the colon, clearing out good bacteria, leaving a toxin that causes extreme diarrhea. It can also lead to a ruptured colon, kidney failure, blood poisoning, even death.

C. diff is a superbug and can be drug resistant. Even when antibiotics work, a number of people get the infection all over again the moment they stop the drugs.

"The patients I'm seeing are the patients who are getting C. diff over and over and over again," said Dr. Michael Edmond. He's an epidemiologist with the VCU Medical Center.

And when C. diff just won't go away, Dr. Edmond may be a patient's last hope. He's an internationally known expert in infectious diseases. Edmond believes he is the only doctor in Virginia doing fecal transplants.

"They say, 'oh this is horrible, this is gross, disgusting.' If you've had diarrhea for 3 months and you can't leave your house and I say this has about a 90% success rate, you know you're response is going to be how fast can we do it," said Edmond.

It seems a little more medieval than modern, and this may even gross you out just a little bit, but there's a real science behind fecal transplants happening inside hospitals and why they work.

"We take a stool sample from a healthy individual and we give it to the patient who has C. diff," said Edmond.

He inserts a tube into your nose, down your throat and into your stomach. He then takes a healthy stool sample from a donor- usually a family member. The sample is mixed in a blender, passed through coffee filters and puts into a syringe. It's then injected into the tube, straight into the C. diff patient's stomach.

"The rational here is, I try to give them back normal bacteria that should be in their gut and make the C. diff go away," adds Edmond.

He's done about 25 procedures now. He's one of a handful of doctors in the country to perform fecal transplants. The idea dates back to 4th century China when people ingested feces to treat food poisoning. It's even used by veterinarians with horses.

Dr. Edmond remembers the first time he told a patient what he wanted to do. "I very gingerly ask her about it. Her response to me was very surprising. She said, 'I'll do anything' and that's what I see most every patient saying."

He does the procedure because it works. A 90% success rate is almost unheard of in medicine.

12 Investigates: C. diff superbug kills thousands in U.S. each year

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