Q: I've had almost constant diarrhea since I got out of the hospital. They say I picked up an infection from a bug called C. difficile -- difficult isn't the half of it! Help! -- Susan P., Moline, Ill.
A: That's a dangerous and draining infection. And there's been a 400 percent increase in the incidence (usually related to stays in hospitals and other health-care facilities) since 2000, likely from the existence of ever-stronger strains. But fortunately, docs have figured out an effective away to treat it: bacteriotherapy. We mentioned this last year, when people were still calling it a fecal transplant. But progress has been made, and in more ways than finding a better name for what is a safe and simple procedure. Bacteria (good and bad), which are essential for the balanced health of your gut, are extracted from donor stools (they used to think they needed to come from a spouse or family member) and introduced into the intestine of someone with C. difficile. Theses microbes then fight off the marauding bacteria.
Labs process donor fecal matter, and it's checked for risky infections -- from HIV to hep C and more. Once it's OK'd as clean (donors get blood tests, too) the resident bacteria are prepared to be introduced into your digestive tract. Remember, 60 percent of your stool is made up of bacteria!
More and more clinics are popping up -- from Portland to New York -- that have pre-screened fecal bacteria in donor banks. The gold standard is to deliver the bacteria via a colonoscopy, so the whole colon can be recolonized and doctors can accurately evaluate the infection. In the U.S., insurance coverage varies; in Canada, it's taken care of.
The success rate at curing C. difficile is more than 90 percent. And there are virtually no negative side effects. So run, don't trot, to your doc for more info on whether this may be the answer for you.
Q: There's a blood drive going on, and my friends want me to sign up with them. But I don't like needles. And don't laugh, but I'm worried I might get AIDS. -- Wallace P., Vancouver, B.C.
A: Donating blood is safe and saves lives, as long as you are donating at a reputable event or a Red Cross-sponsored drive -- like the blood drive in an episode of "The Office" in which Michael (Steve Carell) passed out before he could get the name of a good-looking woman on the next recliner. (He got overanxious, and he didn't eat well that day. More on that in a bit.)
The Red Cross says every minute of every day someone needs blood, yet only three out of 100 people in America donate. So here's how it works:
-- For the draw, a new, sterile needle is used once and then discarded. We know no one really likes being stuck, but these days the needles are so thin and sharp, you hardly feel them.
-- You must be 17 years old (in some states, 16), weigh at least 110 pounds and be in good health.
-- No tattoos within the past 12 months (unless they were applied in N.J., where apparently they're very careful about tattoo sanitation).
-- You will fill out a registration form, show proper I.D., get a mini-physical (temperature, blood pressure, pulse) and answer questions about your health, sex life and travel history.
-- Then you relax on a recliner. The tech disinfects an area on your arm, finds a vein and draws out a pint of blood. Eight to 10 minutes later, you're done.
Back to "The Office": To avoid passing out like Michael did, before you make your donation eat a healthy meal (spinach, fish, poultry and beans can raise your blood iron level), avoid fatty foods (like hamburgers, fries and ice cream), and drink an extra 16 ounces of water. Afterward, sit back and enjoy knowing that you may have just saved three lives.
(Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Submit your health questions at www.doctoroz.com.)