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Sheffield 99 Wednesday, 15 September, 1999, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Meet the viral bug busters
By BBC News Online's Damian Carrington

Using viruses to attack bacteria could provide a new weapon in the battle against a number of infections including meningitis.

Festival of Science
The approach would provide an alternative to the antibiotics to which a growing number of bacteria are becoming resistant.

The scientists from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia and the UK are focusing on using the natural enemies of the bacteria that cause human diseases - viruses that infect and kill them.

It is not a new idea. It was first tried out before the First World War but was largely abandoned when antibiotics became available.

But the scientists in Georgia continued with the work, and now they have joined forces with British researchers at the Institute for Animal Health to spearhead a new programme of research.

Humans and animals

Experiments have already been carried out on some diseases that affect animals. These results suggest that the bacteria-beating viruses - called bacteriophages - are more successful than antibiotics in treating blood poisoning and meningitis in mice.

IAH's Dr Paul Barrow, speaking at the British Association's Festival of Science in Sheffield, said that E. coli infections, such as enteritis and septicaemia, had also been treated in calves and chickens.

He said that not only were these animals good models for future work on human diseases, such as epidemic cholera and burn infections, but the research would also benefit the animals themselves because infections of livestock are a significant problem for farmers.

However, Dr Barrow cautioned that bacteriophages would only be suitable treatments for some infections. They are very specific and have to be matched to exact strains of bacteria, meaning that an infection that kills rapidly could not be treated quickly enough.

But for outbreaks of infection or chronic infections, bacteriophages could provide an excellent bug-busting tool.

See also:

08 Sep 99 | Antibiotics
07 May 99 | Science/Nature
06 Sep 99 | Scotland
18 Jun 99 | Health
09 Sep 99 | Science/Nature
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