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Alternative treatment to a ‘pretty ugly disease’ is catching on

An alternative treatment to a severe bacterial infection is gaining traction at area health care networks.

An alternative treatment to a severe bacterial infection is gaining traction at area health care networks.

While a raised eyebrow or distasteful nose twitch might be the initial response to the notion of fecal transplant therapy, or fecal microbiota transplant, it is a medical service provided by some area physicians that offers dramatic success rates and reduced patient-care costs.

Fecal microbiota transplant is the process where a donor stool is placed in a patient’s digestive tract. The purpose is to replace good bacteria that has been killed or suppressed, usually by the use of antibiotics, causing bad bacteria, specifically Clostridium difficile, or C. diff., to over-populate the colon, according to the Fecal Transplant Foundation.

C. diff. causes symptoms from mild to debilitating diarrhea, and in some cases can be life threatening.

Cases of C. diff. are on the rise. About 29,000 people died within a 30-day diagnosis of C. diff. Of those, 15,000 patient deaths were directly attributed to it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What’s more, according to the CDC, about a half-million Americans suffered from C. diff. infections within a one-year period. Of those, about 100,000 were elderly patients in nursing homes.

“It is a pretty ugly disease,” said Dr. Hiral Shah, a physician with Eastern Pennsylvania Gastroenterology and Liver Specialists PC in Allentown. Shah and his team offer fecal transplant services to patients at Lehigh Valley Health Network.

According to Shah, patients positively diagnosed with C. diff. infections are likely to suffer from recurrent illness, which typically triggers consideration of fecal transplant.

Shah said the Lehigh Valley Health Network program began about five months ago and took about a year to get up and running.

“We had a significant number of patients suffering with this disease,” he said.

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