Best Practices

Patient Knowledge and Attitudes About Fecal Microbiota Therapy for Clostridium difficile Infection

In a survey of patients with Clostridium difficile infection, physician recommendation seemed to be the largest factor affecting the likelihood of patients considering future fecal microbial therapy.

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Clostridium difficile (C difficile) infection (CDI) is a leading cause of infectious diarrhea among hospitalized patients and, increasingly, in ambulatory patients.1,2 The high prevalence of CDI and the high recurrence rates (15%-30%) led the CDC to categorize C difficile as an "urgent" threat (the highest category) in its 2013 Antimicrobial Resistance Threat Report.3-5 The Infectious Diseases Society of America guideline recommended treatment for CDI is vancomycin or metronidazole; more recent studies also support fidaxomicin use.4,6,7

Patients experiencing recurrent CDI are at risk for further recurrences, such that after the third CDI episode, the risk of subsequent recurrences exceeds 50%.8 This recurrence rate has stimulated research into other treatments, including fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT). A recent systematic review of FMT reports that 85% of patients have resolution of symptoms without recurrence after FMT, although this is based on data from case series and 2 small randomized clinical trials.9

A commonly cited barrier to FMT is patient acceptance. In response to this concern, a previous survey demonstrated that 81% of respondents would opt for FMT to treat a hypothetical case of recurrent CDI.10 However, the surveyed population did not have CDI, and the 48% response rate is concerning, since those with a favorable opinion of FMT might be more willing to complete a survey than would other patients. Accordingly, the authors systematically surveyed hospitalized veterans with active CDI to assess their knowledge, attitudes, and opinions about FMT as a treatment for CDI.


In-person patient interviews were conducted by one of the study authors at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System (MVAHCS), consisting of 13 to 18 questions. Questions addressed any prior CDI episodes and knowledge of the following: CDI, recurrence risk, and FMT; preferred route and location of FMT administration; concerns regarding FMT; likelihood of agreeing to undergo FMT (if available); and likelihood of enrollment in a hypothetical study comparing FMT to standard antibiotic treatment. The survey was developed internally and was not validated. Questions used the Likert-scale (Survey).

Patients with CDI were identified by monitoring for positive C difficile polymerase chain reaction (PCR) stool tests and then screened for inclusion by medical record review. Inclusion criteria were (1) MVAHCS hospitalization; and (2) written informed consent. Exclusion criteria were the inability to communicate or participate in an interview. Patient responses regarding their likelihood of agreeing to FMT for CDI treatment under different circumstances were compared using Wilcoxon rank sum test. These circumstances included FMT for their current episode of CDI, FMT for a subsequent episode, and FMT if recommended by their physician. Possible concerns regarding FMT also were solicited, including infection risk, effectiveness, and procedural aesthetics. The MVAHCS institutional review board approved the study.


Stool PCR tests for CDI were monitored for 158 days from 2013 to 2014 (based on availability of study staff), yielding 106 positive results. Of those, 31 (29%) were from outpatients and not addressed further. Of the 75 positive CDI tests from 66 hospitalized patients (9 patients had duplicate tests), 18 of 66 (27%) were not able to provide consent and were excluded, leaving 48 eligible patients. Six (13%) were missed for logistic reasons (patient at a test or procedure, discharged before approached, etc), leaving 42 patients who were approached for participation. Among these, 34 (81%) consented to participate in the survey. Two subjects (6%) found the topic so unappealing that they terminated the interview.

The majority of enrolled subjects were men (32/34, 94%), with a mean age of 65.3 years (range, 31-89). Eleven subjects (32%) reported a prior CDI episode, with 10 reporting 1 such episode, and the other 2 episodes. Those with prior CDI reported the effect of CDI on their overall quality of life as 5.1 (1 = no limitation, 10 = severe limitation). Respondents were fairly accurate regarding the risk of recurrence after an initial episode of CDI, with the average expectedrecurrence rate estimated at 33%. In contrast, their estimation of the risk of recurrence after a second CDI episode was lower (28%), although the risk of recurrent episodes increases with each CDI recurrence.

Regarding FMT, 5 subjects indicated awareness of the procedure: 2 learning of it from a news source, 1 from family, 1 from a health care provider, and 1 was unsure of the source. After subjects received a description of FMT, their opinions regarding the procedure were elicited. When asked which route of delivery they would prefer if they were to undergo FMT, the 33 subjects who provided a response indicated a strong preference for either enema (15, 45%) or colonoscopy (10, 30%), compared with just 4 (12%) indicating no preference, 2 (6%) choosing nasogastric tube administration, and 2 (6%) indicating that they would not undergo FMT by any route (P < .001).

Regarding the location of FMT administration (hospital setting vs self-administered at home), 31 of 33 respondents (94%) indicated they would prefer FMT to occur in the hospital vs 2 (6%) preferring self-administration at home (P < .001). The preferred source of donor stool was more evenly distributed, with 14 of 32 respondents (44%) indicating a preference for an anonymous donor, 11 preferring a family member (34%), and 7 (21%) with no preference (P = .21).

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January 2017 Digital Edition

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