News Stories

Save Us From Superbugs

Russian researcher Alexander Sulakvelidze came to the U.S. after Communism ended because "There was nothing left to do. Good scientists would come to work and spend all day playing cards and chess." When he arrived at the University of Maryland Medical Center, he discovered the hospital was in the midst of a crisis that Soviet scientists had already solved.

Richard Martin writes in Wired that the Enterococcus bacteria was showing signs of resistance to vancomycin, the antibiotic of last resort. Between 1992 and 1994, vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE) infected 75 patients, killing 6 of them. 20% of the patients had VRE in their bloodstreams. The cause of the epidemic was an overuse of antibiotics.

In Russia, infections of this kind are treated not only with antibiotics, but with viruses that attack and destroy bacteria. Sulakvelidze suggested, "Why don't you try bacteriophages?" "Bacteriophage" means "eater of bacteria." These are viruses which have evolved to destroy bacteria and they are as many of them as there are superbugs. They evolve along with their prey.

The suggestion comes just in time, because hospitals are losing the battle against superbugs. In January 2002, seven people died at a Tokyo hospital when they were infected with a drug-resistant strain of Serratia enterobacteria. In March, all heart surgery at Scotland's Edinburgh Royal Infirmary was suspended after 13 patients came down with drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which is the greatest cause of hospital infections. In April, a 40-year-old diabetic woman in Detroit was also found to have drug-resistant S. aureus.

Phages were discovered in the 1920s, when Russian scientist George Eliava left a slide of water from the Mtkvari River containing cholera bacteria under a microscope for three days. When he returned, the germs were all gone. Eliava realized that something had eaten them, and set out to find the bacteria killers.

Phages became commonly used in Russia, but were used in the U.S. only for a short period of time in the 1930s. When penicillin was discovered in the 1940s, they were forgotten in the West. Also, Western science was skeptical about Russian scientific discoveries for a long time.

"The war against bacteria is not something that can be won by humans," says Sulakvelidze. "If you try to wipe them out, they will always return. Only they will be stronger."

Some drugs have very special side-effects?like meeting ETs.

NOTE: This news story, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.


Subscribe to Unknowncountry sign up now