As It Happens

Is your poop the 'right stuff'? Then this Toronto hospital may want it to fight C. difficile

A Toronto medical team wants help saving C. difficile sufferers' lives, after they've run short on donors in their fecal transplant program.
A mixture of human feces and saline, used as part of fecal bacteria therapy to treat C. difficile infections. Maureen Taylor notes: 'That brown stuff on the counter around the container is NOT spilled poo, it's actually an old stain that's been there for decades and doesn't come off.' (Submitted by Maureen Taylor)

Story transcript

Doctors at a Toronto hospital are at the forefront of an icky — yet highly effective — treatment for C. difficile. But they need people's help — specifically, their poop.

"It's a hard thing. I mean you don't put an ad in the paper asking if your poo is the right stuff," Maureen Taylor, a physician assistant in infectious diseases at Toronto's Michael Garron Hospital, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

She is part of a team that works to treat people who've picked up potentially-deadly C. difficile infections while in hospital. 

Most patients with the infection are successfully treated with antibiotics. But up to 20 per cent of those treated find that the infection regularly comes back.

The most reliable treatment for anyone in that position is known as fecal bacteria treatment (FBT): the injection of healthy bacteria provided by other people's stool via an enema.

That's right, a poop enema.

Poop slurries are loaded into syringes and can be frozen for future use for up to 30 days. (Maureen Taylor)

"This is, let's face it, the ultimate probiotic, right? We're taking feces or stool from a healthy donor, and I mix it up with some saline (sterilized water) and then I give it to the patient as an enema. And it's all over in about 20 seconds," explains Taylor, who is also a former CBC journalist.

That mixture of healthy stool and saline is something that Taylor calls a "poo slurry". 

"Essentially, FBT transplants the bacteria in the poop of a healthy person into the gut of the patient with C. difficile, and that good bacteria repopulates the colon. Most studies show FBT has a 85 per cent to 90 per cent success rate in curing C. difficile infections," Taylor and her colleagues wrote in a blog post.

Recently, however, Taylor and her team have been inundated with C. difficile cases that require fecal treatments. She now averages three such treatments a week, with many patients coming from as far away as Thunder Bay and Sudbury.

She's also been critical that other hospitals and doctors who seemingly shy away from the procedure. 

"Some of them think that Health Canada still considers this experimental, but they're wrong," she said. "Health Canada has clearly said (that) in patients who failed medication treatment for C. Difficile, fecal transplants are the standard of therapy - the gold standard of therapy. So that shouldn't be an excuse."​

Maureen Taylor is a former CBC journalist. She's now a Physician Assistant in Infectious Diseases at Toronto's Michael Garron Hospital. (Justin Broadbent)

Naturally, the increased demand for fecal treatments means she needs more people who are willing to donate their poop.

'I don't really care what you eat'

Becoming an approved poop donor isn't as simple as filling out a form, either. Potential donors must be screened ahead of time to ensure they have no potentially infectious diseases that could infect another patient via their stool.

Taylor currently has two donors who donate samples on a regular basis. "I get my poo from them. However the demand is so great I feel like I'm going to be imposing on them too much, and I would like a few more donors to round things out, so that I might only have to ask for poo from everybody once a month," she said.

But she's been spreading the word to find more people who are willing to take the requisite tests to see if they've got the right stuff, as it were.

Think you're a super pooper? Potential donors can email Maureen here.

"I don't really care what you eat, and I'm thrilled when you can drop off two or three of those containers. I can get five doses out of that," Taylor said.