Science News

Fighting Bacteria with Viruses

Sun, 20th Jan 2002

Part of the show Around The World Yacht Race Medicine

Scientists from America are using viruses to kill deadly bacteria that have become resistant to traditional antibiotics. Bacteriophages are viruses that attack and kill bacteria, but are harmless to animals and humans. Researchers had begun using them to treat bacterial infections as long ago as the early 20th century, but the arrival of penicillin meant that the work was apparently no longer necessary and scientists and doctors largely lost interest. But with the arrival in the 1980s and 90s of strains of bacteria resistant to many types of antibiotics, interest has again turned to bacteriophages, which are looking promising. In one recent experiment, a team of scientists infected mice with deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The mice were then treated with bacteriophages at varying times after infection. All of the mice treated within 5 hours of infection survived, and half of the mice treated 24 hours after infection. The mice that did not receive bacteriophage treatment all died within 48 hours. These results are exciting since antibiotic resistant bugs are now a major problem in hospitals throughout the world, so a new way to deal with them will be warmly welcomed by doctors everywhere !
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