What do vampires and antibiotic resistant bacteria have in common?

Well that is a good question indeed! And the answer may lie within a simple onion and garlic remedy! We are all familiar with the classic tales that tell of vampires being fought off with garlic, but can the simple clove of garlic be the answer to the words antibiotic resistance problem? Can one of the major global killers be fended off with a mere slice of garlic bread?! All very important questions….

Tales of Antibiotic Resistance

Before diving head first into the saving the world, one garlic at a time, it is first important to think about the problems caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria and why is it one of the ultimate threats to the future of man kind globally. This image below is a graphic representation of the number of premature deaths predicted annually world wide due to antibiotic resistance.

Deaths attributable to antibiotic resistance each year by 2050

Deaths attributable to antibiotic resistance each year by 2050

Economist Jim O’Neill claims that antibiotic resistance is a more certain threat than climate change in the short term.

Unfortunately not only lives are at risk with antibiotic resistance – Jim O’Neill predicts that the global GDP would decrease by 0.5% by 2020 and 1.4% by 2030. The economist within me says its a safe bet that if we are not directly affected by the antibiotic resistance crisis, the plummeting GDP soon will with a common cause stemming from a decrease in Government spending. Therefore if the Government is ceasing it’s spending, how are we funding a cure for this? It continues to spiral down hill. But alas phage is here to help out!

Are phage our answer to antibiotic resistance?

Are phage our answer to antibiotic resistance?

Phage Therapy

Phage therapy is beginning to be explored as a possible solution to this problem. This is the use of lytic bacteria to treat bacterial infections. Phage are a great alternative to traditional antibiotics due to the specific infectivity – the host range is more narrow than with antibiotics meaning there is efficient bacterial destruction with limited risk to the host. Doctors always insist that a course of prescribed antibiotics is taken verbatim however patients still to this day do not abide by these strict instructions and this results in their body’s bacteria building up a resistance. The bacteria not killed off by the antibiotics can mutate and pass on these resistive traits, ultimately transforming into what we refer to as a ‘superbug’. Phage therapy is often administered orally, through moistened phage-containing dressing and directly applied with a phage suspension. To read more about the mechanisms behind antibiotic resistance, have a look at this really interesting article here.

Is Antibiotic Resistance a Global Issue?

Here’s a quick case study; in 2013, 480,000 new cases of antibiotic resistant tuberculosis were uncovered world wide. WHO claims that with these cases of resistance, more expensive treatments are required and this often puts financial pressure on people especially in third world countries. The diagram below illustrates a higher percentage of these TB resistant cases in Northern Asia as well as Southern Africa and South American countries. New Zealand is within the 0-2.9% of cases threshold.

Percentage of new antibiotic resistant tuberculosis cases

Percentage of new antibiotic resistant tuberculosis cases

Vampires and Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria?

So back to the beginning of this blog post; what do vampires and antibiotic resistant bacteria have in common? They are both ‘afraid’ (for want of a better word) of garlic. Check out the article here to read more. A group of scientists at the University in Nottingham translated an ancient 9th century Anglo-Saxon text telling of a particular ‘eye salve’ that has proven to have a 90% success rate at wiping out antibiotic resistant Staphylococcus aureus. After the translation was complete, researchers found ingredients as close a possible to the original recipe and followed the instructions before adding the ingredients to a biofilm of S. aureus mimicking soft tissue infection. These ingredients included equal amounts of garlic and onion as well as a shot of old wine! Maybe the bacteria are dying from a terrible hangover? This was applied and left for 24 hours. After 24 hours the living bacteria were counted and remarkably from the initial mature population of around 1 billion cells, this was reduced to a mere few thousand cells! The salve worked just as well on the biofilm as it did with the test tube samples. All in all it was concluded after several tests in several countries that this method works better than traditional antibiotics!

So should we be moving from the lab to the kitchen in order to solve these future problems? Hmmmm maybe not today. Maybe tomorrow. Feel free to enjoy your garlic bread but let’s stick to the path of phage to help with this problem.

Courtney.

References:

Crew, B. (2014). New report says antimicrobial resistance will kill 300 million by 2050. Retrieved from http://www.sciencealert.com/new-report-says-antimicrobial-resistance-will-kill-300-million-by-2050.

Macdonald, F. (2015). 1,000-year-old onion and garlic remedy kills antibiotic-resistant bugs. Retrieved from http://www.sciencealert.com/1-000-year-old-onion-and-garlic-remedy-kills-antibiotic-resistant-bugs.

O’Neill, J. (2014). Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling a crisis for the health and wealth of nations, The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance.

World Health Organisation. (2015). Antimicrobial resistance. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs194/en/

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About Courtney Davies

Current hunter of phage!
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One Response to What do vampires and antibiotic resistant bacteria have in common?

  1. Hey Courtney,

    This was such an interesting blog post 🙂 Who knew phage and garlic would have something in common?

    I just wanted to elaborate on your case study about antibiotic resistant bacteria being a global issue, as I find this topic quite fascinating. While I was doing some research for our final presentations last week, I came across an article (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/05/26/the-superbug-that-doctors-have-been-dreading-just-reached-the-u-s/) in the Washington Post published on 27th May 2016, which detailed the arrival of a “superbug” in the United States. I talked about in my blog post too, but to summarise, this particular strain of E.coli was found to be resistant to colistin- a “last resort” drug only administered in cases of extremely persistent bacterial infections. And so the emergence of a bacterial strain that is resistant to this drug is very frightening indeed, with some saying we are at the end of the road in terms of the usefulness of antibiotics!

    More multi- drug resistant tuberculosis strains are also being discovered more frequently, as you mentioned in your post, and of course this poses major threats to the well-being of people in developing countries where access to any proper medicine is often limited. At primary school in South Africa, I remember being taught about the dangers of TB- how contagious it is, and how it is curable but only if it is caught early and if people receive the antibiotic treatment they need immediately. The problem is- that’s a big ask in a country where the majority of the population live below the breadline and where government-run hospitals are not equipped (neither physically nor financially) to deal with large numbers of patients. In addition, those patients who are HIV-positive are even more susceptible to contracting infections and their bodies are less able to fight it off. According to WHO (http://www.who.int/tb/en/), the mortality rate for TB-infected people has nearly halved since 1990 which is great news. However, TB and HIV still rank side by side as the leading causes of death worldwide.

    It is therefore imperative that we continue research into phage therapy, so that we have a viable alternative to antibiotics which would no doubt save many lives.

    Here’s hoping for positive outcomes in the future!

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