Fecal capsules containing healthy stool samples are effective and can be safely taken orally by patients infected with Clostridium difficile bacteria (C. difficile), findings of a new study suggest.

Patients who have contracted the deadly C. difficile can get life-saving treatment through fecal transplants. The procedure typically involves implanting bacteria from a healthy gut to an infected patient through colonoscopy but this can be invasive and costly.

Now, patients can resort to using fecal pills, capsules made of frozen feces from healthy people, an option that would save them the hassles of surgical operations. Researchers of a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Saturday, Oct. 11, have shown that the success rate of using fecal pills in people with potentially deadly bacterial imbalance in the gut is comparable to that of stool transplant, also known as fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT).

People who take antibiotics are particularly vulnerable to C. difficile infection (CDI), which can be difficult to treat and potentially deadly. The reason for this is that antibiotics destroy other bacteria in the gut allowing C. difficile to proliferate. CDI, which is marked by symptoms that range from infectious diarrhea to inflammation of the colon, causes about 250,000 hospitalization and 14,000 deaths in the U.S. annually. Up to 30 percent of those struck by the infection do not respond to antibiotics.

Researchers have found that stool transplants can be about 90 percent effective in treating CDI patients who did not respond to antibiotics. The procedure revives normal colonic flora and thus re-establishes resistance to the bacteria C. difficile. Stool transplants, however, pose some issues and safety concerns so researchers have sought for other options such as the use of FMT capsules that can be orally taken.

Ilan Youngster, from the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and colleagues froze samples of healthy stools enclosed in FMT capsules and then evaluated 20 patients who have taken the capsules for the capsule's safety and efficacy. They found that most of the patients were cured of diarrhea and reported of significant improvements in their health. The researchers also said there were no adverse events associated with the treatment.

"No serious adverse events attributed to FMT were observed. Resolution of diarrhea was achieved in 14 patients after a single capsule-based FMT," Youngster and colleagues reported. "Self-ranked health scores improved significantly on a scale of 1 to 10 from a median of 5 for overall health and 4.5 for gastrointestinal-specific health on the day prior to FMT to 8 after FMT administration for both overall and gastrointestinal health."

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