Smelly tube in the nose beats tummy bug

Doctors are using human poo pumped through a patient’s nose as a medicine for a super stomach bug.


Complete_GI_tractThe medicine is liquefied, but not treated in any way, and reaches the patient’s stomach via a tube.

It restores bacterial balance and kills the bug, says Associate Professor Ian Seppelt, an Australian intensive care doctor and anaesthetist.

So far the treatment, known as faecal transplant, has been tested only on a drug resistant form of the bowel disease caused by the bacterium clostridium difficile.

Antibiotics are unreliable against the superbug, but the transplant is 95 per cent successful, saving patients from constant stomach cramps and chronic diarrhoea.

“It sounds radical but it makes a lot of sense,” said Prof Seppelt on Thursday at a gathering of more than 4000 Australasian anaesthetists and surgeons.

“Usually patients are sufficiently miserable to go ahead, often using a donation from a relative.”

Healthy humans have about 100 times more bacteria cells in their gut than their own cells.

“These good bacteria are essential to keep us alive.”

But serious problems start if a large number are killed by antibiotics, leaving an opening for dangerous bacteria to take their place, as happens with the superbug.

Prof Seppelt is part of a team comparing the gut bacteria of intensive care patients across Australia.

“Our major concern is the development of resistant organisms in patients who are critically ill.

“We are trying to get the balance right, but we are pretty much ignorant of what we are doing to the normal bacteria in the gut,” said Prof Seppelt of the University of Sydney.

The aim is to assess the consequences of putting lots of sick people close together with the potential for bacteria to spread from one to the other.

They also want to see if the gut bacteria differs from one hospital to another.

“We want to get a snap shot of many intensive care units around Australia and see if what is happening in these patients is the same or if it differs from one hospital to another.

“We are also interested in finding out how bacteria in the bowel changes from day to day with the administration of antibiotics.”

* The writer travelled to the conference courtesy of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists.