A tonic of gut microbes may be the secret recipe for treating a common hospital scourge. Researchers have pinpointed the exact mix of microbes required to cure mice of a chronic infection by a hard-to-treat bacterium that causes bloating, pain, and diarrhea in people. A similar bacterial cocktail may one day be able to replace a controversial treatment involving the intake of fecal matter to restore the right balance of microbes in the gut.
Clostridium difficile is a menace in hospitals and nursing homes, causing nearly 336,000 infections and 14,000 deaths a year in the United States. Antibiotics can temporarily knock down the bacterium, but about 25% of infected people relapse, often multiple times, because the germ produces spores that hand sanitizers and hand washing don’t kill. Antibiotics can also backfire because they kill the gut’s normal microbial community, clearing the way for C. difficile to resettle.