Researchers say they have made a major step forward in the fight against Clostridium difficile infection by using a non-toxic form of the bug to prevent it coming back.
The technique involves giving patients who have had C difficile and been successfully treated with antibiotics an oral dose of the harmless version.
The idea is that by letting the non-toxic strain establish itself in the gut it will stop the harmful version taking hold again.
“If we can establish non-toxic C difficile as a resident of the gut of the patient, we can protect them from infection by toxic strains”
Findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggest the approach has been successful in preventing repeat infections.
Writing in the journal, the study authors said: “Among patients with C difficile infection who clinically recovered following treatment with metronidazole or vancomycin, oral administration of spores of non-toxigenic C difficile strain M3 was well tolerated and appeared to be safe.
“Nontoxigenic C difficile strain M3 colonized the gastrointestinal tract and significantly reduced C difficile infection recurrence,” she added.
The study, by an international team of researchers, saw 168 adult patients in the US, Canada and Europe given either varying doses of non-toxic C difficile or a placebo.
Among those given the friendly bug, just 11% experienced a repeat infection within 42 days, compared to 30% who took the placebo.
Recurrence of C difficile infection went down to just 5% for patients who received the best-performing dose of its nicer cousin.
“Results of this study confirm findings from earlier studies that showed if we can establish non-toxic C difficile as a resident of the gut of the patient, we can protect them from infection by toxic strains of C difficile,” said Dr Dale Gerding, from Loyola University Chicago, who led the project.
However, he said further research was needed to confirm the treatment worked. The team would also like to see whether it could prevent patients at high risk of infection catching C difficile in the first place.