Phage Therapy & Superbugs
Never before has the superbug crisis been described so eloquently in so few words than in a recent article entited, "Hospital scourge: Millions of patients are infected by bacteria, and may die", which appeared in the Globe and Mail, Sept. 30, 2006; but now that the problem has been described we need solutions!
The absurdity of the superbug crisis consists of the fact that it can be demonstrated that we had technology, namely bacteriophage therapy, long before we created the antibiotic-resistance superbug crisis through massive abuse of antibiotics and other antimicrobials. Additionally many politicians, bureaucrats, scientists and members of the public health community are or should be well informed about phage therapy which can cure many superbug infections. In spite of a voluminous literature attesting to the scientific validity and medical effectiveness of phage therapy (see http://www.phage.org and find phage therapy references), there are still phage therapy deniers who would resist the careful deployment of these weapons of mass-destruction for specific pathogens in the war with superbugs. Superbugs are winning most battles with an estimated 17 million human casualties due to microbial infections worldwide annually ( 17 million is roughly half the population of Canada or California; the total casualties of WW II are estimated to have been 55 million in about 6 years - superbugs kill more people every 4 years) . Many of these infections are acquired by patients after entering hospitals for unrelated illnesses, making hospitals significant killing fields in the war with superbugs. In Canada as many as 30 patients are dying of such infections daily and we have known the magnitude of the problem at least since the early 1970's when Ottawa bacteriologist Dr. J.C. N. Westwood was on the conference and media circuit with essentially the same message that is reflected in current papers and news reports ( J.C.N. Westwood, Current National Patterns - Canada, Proceedings of the International Conference on Nosocomial Infections, Center for Disease Control, Aug. 3-6, 1970, 17). Nothing has significantly changed unless we consider the worsening of the problem as success!
What is Phage Therapy? Prior to the discovery and widespread use of antibiotics, bacterial infections were treated worldwide by the administration of bacteriophages. Bacteriophages or phages are highly specific viruses that invade bacterial cells and, in the case of lytic phages, disrupt bacterial metabolism and cause the bacterium to die. Interestingly it was the French-Canadian microbiologist, Felix d'Herelle, while working at the Institute Pasteur in Paris in 1917 who is credited with discovering and promoting phage therapy. While the use of phage therapy was discontinued in the West soon after the discovery of antibiotics they continued to be utilized in Eastern Europe and today many infections untreatable with antibiotics can be treated in clinics in Georgia (Europe) and Poland. Once one accepts the fact that it requires microscopes to see the world of bacteria and bacteriophages, phage therapy may be compared to any biological control methodology and can conceptually be described as: What a cat is to a mouse the right bacteriophage is to a specific bacterium or superbug. Phage therapy has been going on in nature as a balancing force in the evolution of microbes for a long time. Medical phage therapy is simply the intervention of humans to ensure that the balance is in favour of bacteriophages over susceptible bacterial pathogens! While there is considerable expertise on phage therapy in Canada at the research level as can be substantiated by googling phage therapy ("pages from Canada" only), medical phage therapy is not currently approved or practised in Canada; however, according to a letter signed by the former federal health minister phage therapy can be made available legally to Canadian patients under the Special Access Program of our Food & Drugs Act! A discussion of phage therapy is currently very timely, not only because too many Canadians are dying of superbug infections; but also because of the recent release of the Canadian film: Killer Cure: The Amazing Adventures of Bacteriophage and the June 2006 release of the English book by Thomas Haeusler entitled Viruses vs. Superbugs, a solution to the antibiotics crisis? ( see http://www.bacteriophagetherapy.info ) - both are available at Ottawa libraries. Additionally, the record of an excellent question-and-answer session with Dr. Roger Johnson of the Public Health Agency of Canada can be found at http://meristem.com/topstories/ts06_08.html . Further, the phage therapy file has dramatically changed during the last few weeks because the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has amended the US food additive regulations to provide for the safe use of a bacteriophage preparation on ready-to-eat meat and poultry products as an antimicrobial agent against Listeria monocytogenes (see http://www.fda.gov/OHRMS/DOCKETS/98fr/02f-0316-nfr0001.pdf ). This excellent submission evaluation changes the scientific validity of phage therapy from Eastern European science, which sadly too many of us Westerners dismiss with hubris and bias as not credible, to approved and supported by the all-knowing and all-seeing FDA at least for ready-to-eat meats. Otherwise the US situation is similar to the Canadian situation - much expertise at the research level but no human treatment, which is a pity.
Superbugs are everybody’s business because superbugs make everybody their business and every North Americans should study the above references because sooner or later everybody will be faced with an infection or know a relative or friend who will be suffering or dying with one. Withholding such treatment from patients when antibiotics are failing ought to be a crime; however, those who have the money and time to travel when faced with an infection where antibiotics are failing may be able to get phage therapy treatment in Georgia ( http://www.phagetherapycenter.com ) or Poland - http://www.aite.wroclaw.pl/phages/phages.html .