Every day when we go to the bathroom, we flush away material that could be used to help people treat serious medical conditions.
Yes, we’re talking about poop.
The medical community is embracing the effective, straightforward "fecal transplant" as a way to heal antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections like Clostridium difficile. This potentially life-threatening bacteria causes people to have violent episodes of diarrhea, which can create holes in the intestine and put sufferers at risk of sepsis and death. In 2011, nearly half a million Americans were infected with C-diff, which is mostly contracted in hospitals. The same year, the disease was linked to 29,000 deaths.
In the past, doctors attempted to heal C-diff patients with multiple rounds of antibiotics, which indiscriminately kill both the healthy and harmful bacteria in our bodies. Losing healthy bacteria means losing a defense against C-diff and other harmful bacteria that can colonize the intestines. Repeated rounds of antibiotics also contributes more broadly to the medical problem of superbugs, or antibiotic-resistant bacteria for which there is no cure. And in worst-case scenarios, patients who don’t respond to medication have parts of their intestine surgically removed to prevent fecal matter from leaking through perforated or damaged intestine walls -- a potentially fatal C-diff complication.
Fecal transplantation approaches the problem in a completely different way than antibiotics. Instead of wiping out all bacteria in the hopes of killing C-diff spores, the treatment pushes out bad bacteria by recolonizing the infected intestine with a healthy mix of diverse gut bacteria.
The procedure might sound disgusting and messy, but as the video clip from VICE shows, the procedure typically takes place in an extremely well-controlled and sterile hospital environment, and takes less than 10 minutes to complete. In the clip, doctors from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota inject a mix of healthy poop and saline into a patient suffering from C-diff, and you won't feel like gagging even once.
Vice is exploring this new medical frontier in their episode “Fecal Medicine,” which is available to stream now on HBO GO and HBO NOW.
Check out these other promotional clips from the episode, about the process of stool donation and the lengths some will go through to administer fecal transplants on themselves when their condition is unapproved for the procedure.
Warning: the clips below contains sensitive material. Proceed with caution.