Public Health England’s laboratory at Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham is becoming infamous for a new ‘cure’ that has been saving people affected with clostridium difficile.
The hospital has become the largest centre in the UK for faecal transplants, succeeding at a 90% rate among patients who’ve tried standard antibiotics to minimal effect.
The liquid stools are being sent to other parts of the UK as the program expands.
Ironically, clostridium difficile is a bacterium that causes extreme diarrhea in patients. Traditionally, up to three antibiotics would be given to remedy the ailment, but roughly 10% don’t respond to them at all.
Professor Pete Hawkey from Birmingham University’s School of Immunity and Infection says about a third of those infected can die. His first patient was someone who was stuck in the hospital for 100 days. In 24 hours after taking the experimental stool sample, the patient was able to walk around the ward.
In its simplest terms, the patient’s gut is re-colonized with ‘good’ bacteria, which competes with the clostridium difficile, forcing it out. The treatment is administered in 50ml dosages, taken through a tube placed into the nose, emptying into the stomach.
“It looks like black coffee. They don’t taste it, they don’t vomit. It is very straightforward,” Prof Hawkey explained.
“This is a very nasty disease. In this extreme group, you are looking at a 30% mortality rate – which is a frightening thought. We have conservatively saved 20 lives, possibly more.”
Louise Storer from Kingsbury is one of those people; she was offered the fecal option when nothing else was working.
“By that stage, I was so ill I would have tried anything to put me out of my misery,” she said.
“After 48 hours, it was like a miracle. At the time, I didn’t like the idea at all, but I can only thank the person who donated [their feces] for giving me back my life.”