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Bacteriophages - Superbugs' Worst Nightmares!

Bacteriophages. The rediscovery of the Century!

Having followed and collected literature on nosocomial infections at least
since 1970, I often envisiged a doomsday clock counting out the number
of deaths caused by antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. If we had
started such a doomsday clock for counting the number of Canadians
dying from antibiotic-resistant and/or superbug infections on January 1,
2000, it would now, April 2, 2005, read roughly 34,000. This is based on
8000 deaths due to these types of infections annually and the clock
would be adding an estimated 22 new deaths daily!

How many people will have to die before we give phage therapy an
honest try! I was rereading the recent German book; Gesund durch Viren
– Ein Ausweg aus der Antibiotika-Krise/Healthy Through Viruses – a
way out of the antibiotic-resistance crisis (for an English book review
see ) and at the
same time I was following current articles about nosocomial infections as
posted at websites, such as, -
NEWS BLOG. While only a few years ago, when Toronto musician
Gertler went to Georgia in Eastern Europe, for phage therapy treatment
for an antibiotic-resistant foot infection, it was a major adventure, today
information and arrangements for such treatment is only a click away at – in other words - for those who know
about the technology, have the money to travel and the time to get there
before superbug does its work, phage therapy is a currently available
treatment option. Soon it may also be available in America through the
efforts of Phage International, Inc (see

While working at the Pasteur Institute in Paris in 1917, the French-
Canadian microbiologist, Felix d’Herelle (
v.pdf ), experienced one of those rare eureka moments when he saw
his pathogenic bacteria cultures being lysed - d’Herelle had discovered
parasitic viruses which tend to be highly specialized for specific bacteria
strains and which can kill large populations of bacteria relatively quickly
without harming humans and animals. He named them bacteriophages –
“bacteria eaters” and immediately recognized their potential as cures for
bacterial infections at a time when neither sulfonamides nor antibiotics
were available. He became a major advocate and practitioner of phage
therapy, which was subsequently practiced wordwide to control
bacterial infections. However, phage therapy fell into disuse in the West
after the introduction of penicillin in the 1940’s. Phage therapy remained a
significant medical technology in the former USSR, led by research and
production facilities in Georgia ( ), and in
Poland ( ). The work
from Poland is particularly interesting and available since it was
published in English and showed cure rates ranging from 60% to 100%,
depending on the type of infection when patients were treated after
antibiotic treatment had failed.

Recently hundreds of Canadians died of C. difficile infections. While
hubris (
l ) may make it possible for some to ignore the massive scientific and
application evidence from early years and from Eastern Europe, it is more
difficult to ignore more recent work from many countries. For example, in
2000 two researchers from the Texas Tech Department of Microbiology
state: “By using bacteriophage we can totally prevent the disease (C.
difficile infections) in an animal model. … C. difficile is a perfect disease
to be treated with bacteriophage” ( ).

Comprehensive English language information on phage therapy can be
found at the following websites: ( , ).

Since the multidrug-resistance superbug phenomenon is strictly a human
abuse created problem and is threatening to become the mother of all
regulatory-scientific misadventures, it is essential that the regulatory-
scientific community assume responsibility for this issue as well as the
development and importation of methodologies which might help mediate
this crisis – instead of ignoring phage therapy in the name of hubris, nih
(not invented here) and russophobia, it is a time to be humble and admit
that we actively created the antibiotic-resistant superbug crisis. Letting
patients die in the name of hubris, nih and russophobia is surely not good
public health policy and a knowledge that phage therapy can treat many
such infections appears to raise ethical issues if not legal issues - who
has the moral right to withhold phage therapy technology from patients
after antibiotics have been tried and shown to fail!

On December 3 and 4, 2004 the “Livesymposium Biotherapy” in Germany
( ) examined the
role of phage therapy as a viable treatment methodology for bacterial
diseases in the light of ever increasing failure of antibiotics and the
emergence of drug-resistant superbugs. It is my opionion that many
countries, including Canada, have sufficient expertise on phage therapy
to bring this technology to patients if governments declared
antibiotic-resistance the severe public health crisis which it clearly is and
then provided coordinative leadership for the development of national
phage therapy programs.

G.W. (Bill) Riedel, PhD Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

P.S.: To appreciate the seriousness of the antibiotic-resistance superbug
crisis the following report is recommended: Infectious Diseases Society
of America, Bad Bugs, No Drugs As Antibiotic Discovery Stagnates … A
Public Health Crisis Brews at

P.S.S.: The following website promoting Georgia has an interesting
statement: - “The programme
revealed that we, humankind had discovered a superior cure (to
antibiotics) for bacterial infections a century ago and for some reasons
we, people don't know much about it! I find it a crime to know all this and
not to inform the rest of the world about it. Hundreds, thousands of
people still die or loose body parts every single day because of this
terrible (should be bacteria) virus! Medical statistics say that millions
loose lives and become cripples every year of this dangerous virus
while the cure is found and is not that far!”

Competing interests: None declared

Reference to British Medical Journal
Viruses - versus - Superbugs

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