'The Yuck Factor': fighting C. diff with a fecal transplant

Published: Jul. 25, 2018 at 3:19 PM EDT
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"The Yuck Factor" may not be the most appetizing story to share, but it's extremely important to know about.

A superbug known as Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, kills thousand in hospitals and nursing homes nationwide.

It's highly contagious and 40 to 60 percent of us walk around with it on our shoes.

While antibiotics can be used to treat it, for many this superbug has become resistant to antibiotics.

Now the FDA is stopping the bug in its tracks by recommending it be treated with a fecal transplant.

Sheryl Gerald has been suffering from C. diff since May. This is how she describes the pain: "Your intestines, stomach is on fire, burning pain."

South Bend Clinic Gastroenterologist Zuhair Yaseen explains how fecal transplants are changing that. "Even though we don't think of bacteria as a friendly environment for us, it turns out the bacteria we carry ourselves in the colon is very important."

For Sheryl, the very antibiotics she was given for treatment made things worse.

That's why doctors like Yaseen worry about overuse. "She's been treatment by antibiotics, and every time she finishes the antibiotics, the infection come back."

And we're not talking just any infection. C. diff causes intense bouts of infectious diarrhea and kills 14,000 people each year.

Sheryl says it changed every aspect of her life. "C. diff has been very scary to me, and it's been life-altering. You have to think of every move you make. When you go somewhere, where is that bathroom?

Most of the time you want to stay home because you do not want to give this to your family."

But Sheryl found hope at the South Bend Clinic when Yaseen told her that a fecal transplant could finally cure her.

He explains how it works. "All it is is reseeding your normal bacteria or normal flora in the intestine. It turns out we live in an environment in which we need bacteria and they need us."

While a fecal transplant may sound grotesque, Yaseen says it's no more difficult than getting a colonoscopy. "We go through the colon -- the colon is about 3 and a half feet -- all the way by the appendix, and once we get to that area we basically dump all that liquidated form. We simply pull the tube out, so the treatment is very simple."

Then the patient goes home. He says the hardest part is getting patients past what he calls "the yuck factor," but he says just like with getting blood, there is really no yuck factor at all. "You get it from a company that freeze dries the specimen and it's reconstituted, and these are known donors, so it's all tested."

He says patients are thrilled with the results and happy to be living again. "Most patients have suffered with this for months. Typically it starts working immediately. In essence what we are trying to do is restore that balance and reintroduce what we consider normal bacteria."

Sheryl is looking forward to the procedure. "He said 90 percent who have this procedure done, C. diff never returns. That will be a miracle to me."

We're happy to report that Sheryl got her miracle. I spoke with her yesterday, two weeks after her transplant.

She's no longer sick. Instead, she's getting out of the house, losing weight and enjoying her family.

Yaseen says that other side effects researchers are studying between bacteria and the colon have to do with how our gut health may affect weight, obesity and diabetes.

And more good news: A new fecal pill will soon be released.

This procedure is covered by most insurance.

Contact Zuhair Yaseen, M.D., at South Bend Clinic: 574-204-6425