The Problem: Antibiotics Are No Longer Working
Previously curable diseases and minor injuries are killing more and more people every year in the United States. Minor injuries such as a skinned knee, that no one would expect to be terminal, are among the many minor injuries that more and more often are resulting in death. Diseases that once were curable with antibiotics – sinus infections, strep throat, ear infections, skin infections, food poisoning, and other bacterial infections, are developing into antibiotic resistant superbugs.
Since there is no longer a cure for the above-listed ailments they can develop to the point of killing their host (that could be you, or someone close to you). That currently happens in the United States 23,000 times a year, (Centers for Disease Control). That is correct. 23,000 people in the United States die every year from the causes listed above, as well as from other infections and injuries that were once treatable and curable. The number — 23,000 — is growing, and unless a solution is found, it is expected that number will reach 10 million by the year 2050, (Medical Daily).
There is a solution, but the United States is slow to embrace it. Why? Developing new drugs and/or treatments is a very lengthy process. Most of the big pharmaceutical companies want something that will pay off quickly.
At the same time, physicians prefer a one-size-fits-all approach, and sometimes there isn’t any. In other words, they want a treatment or cure that is uniform, and suitable for application for people of many different ages and general physical conditions, as well as suitable for a wide variety of medical conditions. Bacterial infections are among those medical issues where there is no longer an easy fix.
Antibiotics provided a fairly simple solution to bacterial infections for many years and people have become dependent on them. Unfortunately, now antibiotics do not work for a lot or people, and the number of people they do not work for is getting larger everyday.
This is a Bacteriophage
Bacteriophage Therapy Is Working In Europe
The solution that is working in Eastern Europe is not so easy and requires a bit more effort. American scientists and researchers have begun to work on turning the Eastern European solution into a solution here in the states too, but our Food and Drug Administration requires many documented studies before it will approve new cures for anything. Medical professionals want an easy magic pill that can be mass-produced, and bacteriophage therapy doesn’t work that way.
First a sample of the bacteria causing the problem must be taken from a wound, or sore throat, or wherever the problem is. Then the bacteria must be tested to determine what kind of bacteria it is. Usually there are several different bacteria causing the problem. Then a cocktail of sorts made up of bacteriophages is mixed up specifically for the bacteria present at the site of the medical problem. Not all bacteriophages work on all bacteria, and that is the reason testing to determine what bacteria are causing the problem is so important. To assure that the bacteriophages that will best destroy the bacteria are administered.
Bacteriophage Therapy is a very specific kind of treatment. Unlike antibiotics, it only kills specific bacteria, not all of bacteria that is present in the body of the person being treated with it. There are no ill side affects like there are for many people when antibiotics are administered because with bacteriophages all the bacteria are not destroyed the way they are when antibiotics are used. Only the bacteria causing the medical problem are destroyed.
Tailed phages are the most numerous organisms on Earth.
— Stephen T. Abedon, Ph.D., Assoc. Prof. Microbiol., The Ohio State University
Characteristics of Bacteriophages
“As living organisms, phages are constantly changing and adapting in tandem with their host bacteria to kill them more effectively. Phage therapy could therefore eliminate the vicious cycle in which bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics, necessitating the development of new, even more powerful drugs, at which point the process begins all over again.”
WHAT DOES MRSA STAND FOR?
Methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus
How It Works
“Technically the word virus means poison, but bacteriophages in fact benefit humans and other animals as well as our eco-system and our planet. While bacteriophages are said to devour or eat bacteria, that is not entirely accurate. They invade, or infect the bacteria and take over its DNA for the purpose, not of eating the bacteria as food, but rather to use the bacteria to replicate themselves.”
Prevention Magazine, February 15, 2015 issue
What are phages?
The word phage means something that devours. Bacteriophage specifies the type of phage that is being discussed – a phage that devours bacteria in this case.
A bacteriophage is a virus. It has no interest in devouring other viruses, and is useless against them, but when put in close contact with the right kind of bacteria — and their preferences do vary according to the specific type of phage they happen to be, they will invade the bacteria, take over its DNA, and begin replicating itself until the bacteria bursts. So in fact they destroy the bacteria through their replication process, not by literally eating them.
There are thousands of different kinds of bacteriophages. Sometimes they mutate slightly and stop liking the same old bacteria and develop a preference for a different type, but since there are also thousands of different kinds of bacteria that make people sick, it is just a matter of getting them paired up correctly.
Bacteriaphages are among the good bugs you sometimes hear scientists and healthcare professionals talking about. Their preferred victims are the bad bugs you have heard these same people talking about. It is a matter of getting bacteriophages together with their favorite bacteria and that requires a bit of testing. It takes a little longer than simply writing and filling a prescription and popping some pills for a few days.
Bacteriophages are in fact very picky about which bacteria they use for replication. Once testing determines specifically what bad bacteria are making you sick it is just a matter of determining which good viruses to introduce to your system. The results are far superior to any antibiotic according to scientists who work in this field.
To introduce bacteriophages to your infection, a few drops of liquid containing thousands of these phages is dropped from an eye dropper, or sometimes sprayed onto the affected area. There is no pain involved. You will probably not notice any change for the first few days, but after 4 to 7 days you will see improvement as if by magic.
Essentially, just as bacteria sometimes infect humans, bacteriophages infect the bacteria, but they do not infect humans. Phages are everywhere. They are in soil, water, food, sewage, and the human digestive tract – anywhere bacteria are found. There are literally billions of them in our individual bodies and are for the most part benign to humans. They are everywhere bacteria can be found because bacteria are necessary to the reproduction of the bacteriophages.
Putting Deaths from Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria into Perspective
To put the figure 23,000 in prospective, be aware that about 33,000 people die from gunshot wounds every year in the U.S.
Approximately 33,000 people die in automobile accidents in the U.S. every year, also.
The number of auto fatalities is coming down every year, but that is not the case with gun related deaths or with antibiotic resistant bacterial infections that end in death. The statistics on both gun related and antibiotic resistant bacteria related deaths are rising.
What is Slowing the Process of Making Phage Therapy Available to All Americans?
Elizabeth Svoboda, writing for Popular Science, explains that it is the very thing that makes phages so effective, their ability to mutate, that is a big part of the problem.
U.S. regulatory agencies require documentation on the safety and effectiveness of a treatment or medication before the FDA will approve it.
The issue with phages is that they start an experiment with a particular set of characteristics, but may mutate and change those characteristics to better accomplish their purpose before the experiment can finish. This is worrying to FDA officials, because there is no certainty that one of these times the phages won’t mutate into something harmful to humans.
So far, the phages have never mutated into anything harmful to humans, and no adverse side affects have been experienced by test subjects as a result of phage mutations. Phages usually mutate in order to be more virulent against bacteria. Bacteria change in order to better resist the phages, and in turn the phages change to cancel the change the bacteria have made. It is a maddening circle as some people might say, but generally considered a good thing so that the phages are more successful in clearing infections.
There are very often more than one or two kinds of bacteria present in a wound or an infection. Indeed there are often hundreds of different types of bacteria at the site of an infection. Phages will sometimes mutate as a result of exposure to bacteria that is slightly different from their usual victims. That is one of the many advantages of phages. As bacteria mutate to strengthen their ability to exist and ward off the enemy phages, their nemesis mutate also, and as a result bacteria rarely if ever become resistant to phages.
Svoboda points out that Karen Riley, spokesperson for the FDA, has said that mutations during trials could cause an entire trial to be “scrapped,” even though test subjects had no adverse affects as a result of the mutations. Preventing phages from mutating could prevent them from doing the great job they do in ridding this planet of harmful bacteria. Yet to pass requirements by the FDA to be approved, they must not mutate. Basically, for bacteriophages to pass the rigorous requirements of the FDA in order to be approved, they must stop being effective. Yes, crazy.
Currently there is no way to prevent mutation from happening during a trial, and as a result of that, along with the FDA requiring every single phage (there are hundreds of thousands of them) that is used medically to be tested and documented, etc., it could take a very long time before phages are approved for use in the U.S..
Meanwhile, 23,000 people in the U.S. alone are dying every year while waiting for an approved treatment/cure for their affliction caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria . That number is rising steadily.
Eastern Europe Has Been Using Phages to Cure Infections for Over a Hundred Years
Svoboda writes in Popular Science that vials of fluid containing bacteriophages used to be sold in drugstores here in the United States up until the early 1940s. That practice stopped with the advent of penicillin, because penicillin was considered easier to use, and there was more money to be made on it.
While it is possible to randomly introduce many different types of bacteriophages to an infection expecting that some of them will be the right kind, results are usually quicker and better if the specific bacteriophage that prefers the bacteria present is introduced. That requires testing to see what kind of bacteria are present and complicates the process.
The FDA doesn’t trust anything that hasn’t survived its stringent requirements and reviews. However, Svoboda writes, “to the scientists working at the George Eliava Institute of Bacteriophage, Microbiology and Virology in the republic of Georgia, the medicine is as trusted as aspirin. Since 1923, when the facility was founded, scientists there have successfully treated millions of patients with phage therapy and presented more than 100 research abstracts at international conferences attesting to its clinical value.”
Like so many medications that have been tested and found safe and useful in Europe, but not allowed into this country because it has not been tested by our own scientists and doctors under the watchful eye of the FDA, this treatment is very rare in this country as yet, and likely to remain so for many years to come.
Svoboda writes about a doctor in Lubbock, Texas that is doing his best to make this treatment available to some of his patients as a last resort, while at the same time working with the FDA. Dr. Randy Wolcott spent several days at the George Eliava Institute in the Republic of Georgia learning all he could about the ‘serum’ and how to use it.
Instead of taking a couple of days, treatment may take several days, and even 2 weeks or more, but it does an amazing job for most people who undertake it. This may not sound ideal, but it starts sounding much better when you compare it to no treatment and ultimately death, which is the other option for most people. In fact, the last treatment (death) is the only treatment available for most Americans because they can’t afford to travel to Lubbock, or to the Republic of Georgia, for treatment.
For those people who may be confused, yes, we have a state named Georgia in this country, but that is not the Georgia I am referring to here. I am speaking of the Republic of Georgia bordering the countries of Turkey and Armenia among others. That could be an expensive trip for people with low paying jobs.
Just the same, it might be a good idea to start thinking about how you would handle a situation where antibiotic resistant bacteria were causing serious problems for yourself or a family member so that you will be prepared to act. There are some directions included here that could save your life or that of your loved one, and they can also be viewed in the February 2015 issue of Prevention Magazine.
For the sake of your family, I hope you will take a few minutes to read the articles both in Prevention Magazine and on the Popular Science website on which I have based this article. Hopefully the situation will get better soon, but until it does, it pays to be prepared. I promise you, ignoring this problem will not make it go away.
What to Do if You Get MRSA
Some patients with a resistant infection can access phages without leaving the U.S., depending on the infection and its severity.
Here Is What You Do . . .
Patients register at phagetherapy.com and describe your problem. Then send that description along with medical records and a bacterial sample – urine, stool, or a swab. Further directions for sending will be given on the website.
Once received, your sample will be tested to see whether the infection is one that can be treated with a phage preparation.
Once the bacteria are identified and the correct phage or phage combination is isolated, a Phage Therapy Center doctor will prescribe a treatment that is prepared in Tbilisi, Georgia, and then shipped to your home. Phages generally come in liquid form and are applied topically, inserted as drops, or taken orally.
In severe cases, particularly with chronic conditions, patients travel to Eastern Europe for more extensive treatment. Costs range from $800 for a home–delivered preparation, or as much as $6,000 or more for treatment overseas, including travel. Some insurers cover a portion of the costs and some cover nothing at all.
Prevention magazine, February 15, 2015 issue.