From the Sewer to the Syringe

Bacteriophage on a bacteria / Getty

Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin growing inside a mold, so perhaps it’s not as vile as it first seems to learn that scientists are discovering cures for what ails us in sewage. As Sigal Samuel reports at Vox, as bacterial infections become more resistant to antibiotics, scientists are finding hope in phages — helpful viruses found in particularly disgusting places.

Already, 700,000 people around the world die of drug-resistant diseases each year, including 230,000 deaths from multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. And the problem is only getting worse.

This therapy might sound outlandish, but it’s not actually new — it dates back to a century ago. Phages were often used to treat infections in the first few decades of the 20th century, and in some places in Eastern Europe and Russia, that’s still the case.

According to a major new UN report, if we don’t make a radical change now, drug-resistant diseases could kill 10 million people a year by 2050. That’s more people than currently die of cancer.

He acknowledged the yuck factor of getting injected with a virus culled from sewage, but said that when someone has a truly terrible infection, they get over that psychological hurdle pretty fast.

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