Are phages more effective than antibiotics?

Bacteriophages on the surfaces of bacteria trying to inject genetic materials
Bacteriophage attacking the bacteria courtesy Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

In recent years bacteriophages have gained popularity on being the last option when antibiotics have failed. Many people are still doubting the safety of using bacteriophages for clinical application due to fear of some imaginable implications based on the fact that these are viral particles introduced to the human body.  Up to date in many countries, antibiotics remained the first line on fighting bacterial infections, but due to the rise in antibiotic resistance these drugs fail to deliver the expectations. In some scenarios, cases of multidrug-resistant strains of bacteria were successfully treated using bacteriophage while in most of the cases no side effect was directly related to the phage therapy offered to the patient.

Why are phages not commonly used in treatments?

Several reasons made phage therapy not so common around the globe. One major reason is the narrow host range. A host range is the number of bacterial species a phage can kill (the host range applies to antibiotics too). Usually, one specific bacteriophage only infects and kills one specific species of bacteria, and not every kind of phage can be used for treating some of them are lysogenic phages and not lytic hence not suitable for therapy. Although there are some other disadvantages of using phage therapy which you might not get when using antibiotics for treatment

Why are antibiotics prevailing despite outstanding phage therapy effectiveness?

The majority of antibiotics have a much broader host range. Some antibiotics have the ability to kill a wide variety of bacterial species at the same time. This is one of the main reasons why antibiotics are still used as a first-line treatment for bacterial infections in many parts of the world. Most antibiotics work by interfering with specific bacterial systems. Rather than preventing bacteria from performing a specific process, as antibiotics do, phages actively destroy the bacteria's cell wall and cell membrane, killing bacteria by creating numerous holes from the inside out.

Are phages more effective than antibiotics?

Yes and No are both possible answers. If the effectiveness of clearing one specific bacteria is considered, bacteriophages far outperform antibiotics; however, if the effectiveness of clearing multiple bacterial infections is considered, antibiotics will be the preferred option. Although phage cocktails, in which phages specific for different bacteria are mixed together to create a concoction that can clear multiple infections, can solve this problem.

Phage Fast Facts

  • Phages won’t harm any of your cells except for the bacterial cells that they’re meant to kill.
  • Phage therapy has fewer side effects than antibiotics. 
  • On the other hand, most antibiotics have a much wider host range. Some antibiotics can kill a wide range of bacterial species at the same time.
  • The human immune system sometimes recognizes phages as “foreigners” and tries to kill them. To prevent this, doctors can give their patients large amounts of phage particles.

2 Comments

Due to high spammy comment count, the moderation mode has been reinstated. Only resourceful comments will be published.

  1. Bacteriophages are here to save lives especially in a scenario where AMR is concerned. thanks Raph great article.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am impressed but there is need for more extensive and intensive evaluation on these phage therapeutics.

    ReplyDelete
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