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Thursday, 16 May 2019

What could be better than antibiotics? Viruses found in sewage.

What could be better than antibiotics? Viruses found in sewage. Antibiotic resistance is one of the looming global health crises of our time, and now phages (viruses that target and kill specific bacteria) are being put forward as a way to treat illnesses that antibiotics can no longer be used on, Vox reports. The catch? Phages are often found in really dirty places, like sewage or pond scum.

How exactly does phage therapy work? When a phage comes into contact with bacteria, it attaches itself to it, injects its own DNA into it, and then starts to reproduce, essentially overpowering the host bacteria with multiple phage copies. Phages can be deployed to target particular bacteria (unlike antibiotics, which often kill the good bacteria along with the bad). They can even cause bacteria to evolve, in some cases changing from being antibiotic-resistant to being sensitive to, ultimately giving a patient more treatment options. Commonly used in the early 20th century, phage treatment is now experiencing a revival, with viruses being assembled by scientists. The treatment is experimental but phages themselves are abundant (with an estimated 10 mn tn on Earth at any given time) and very easy to clone and culture.

Phage therapy has an Egypt tie-in: An American who contracted an antibiotic-resistant illness in Egypt in 2015 was successfully treated with phage therapy, with doctors saying the treatment saved his life. Egypt has a high rate of antibiotic abuse, including overuse of antibiotics and using them when they are not actually needed (to treat a cold, for instance). We have been ranked among the top three low- and lower-middle-income countries in terms of antibiotic consumption.

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