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Faeces cure for deadly bug

Clostridium difficile spores surrounding a long bacterium.

Clostridium difficile spores surrounding a long bacterium. Photo: Getty Images

A POTENTIALLY deadly and virulent bug that attacks the gut may soon be treated with the most stomach-churning of remedies.

A study published on Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine has found transplanting human faeces into people with the superbug Clostridium difficile provided an almost universal cure for the condition - far outperforming traditional antibiotic treatment.

Faecal microbiota transplantation is thought to work by replacing the healthy bacteria in the gut that have been wiped out by antibiotics. For the past 20 years an Australian, Thomas Borody, has pioneered the treatment, although its use has been traced back thousands of years.

''This study is monumental,'' Professor Borody said.

The research found nearly 94 per cent of patients given the transplantation one or two times recovered, compared to only 30 per cent of the group given the antibiotic vancomycin.

The study was then stopped early by an ethics committee on the ground that it would be unethical not to offer all patients the transplants.

Professor Borody said C. difficile, which has ravaged the US, killing 30,000 people each year, was spreading to Australia, although no one could be sure how common it was as health departments did not routinely test for it.

''In Sydney we have had about 15 deaths that we know of … in the past year and a half,'' he said.

Just as people now donate blood, in future donors may be called on to give stools.

At present the faeces is inserted into the recipient using colonoscopy or nasal tube but researchers are developing a less off-putting method.

''The future of this FMT is filtered bacteria, washed, frozen and put in a capsule, which we lovingly call a 'crapsule','' said Professor Borody, from the Centre for Digestive Diseases and the University of Technology, Sydney.

The clinical associate dean at the St George Hospital clinical school at the University of NSW, Michael Grimm, said trying to find appropriate donors could be difficult.

''We are just starting now to grapple with the bacteria in the gut; it's an impossible soup to analyse,'' Professor Grimm said.

''What potential pathogens are in there that might not have been pathogenic to the host but could become pathogenic to the recipient, are really unknown.''

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