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An unlikely new weapon against a deadly bacteria in oysters: A virus

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- People looking forward to eating raw oysters over the holidays will welcome news that scientists are making progress in the fight against a rare but deadly disease associated with the tasty bivalves.

Two University of Florida researchers report curing mice of the disease by using a virus to attack its bacterial source Vibrio vulnificus. The scientists say the research may lead to techniques to purify oysters after harvest but before they reach raw bars and seafood markets and might one day result in a better cure for the disease in people.

The work, reported in a November article in the journal Infection and Immunity, is part of a growing trend in research to use bacteria-attacking viruses, or "phages," to cure diseases caused by bacteria, said Paul Gulig, a UF professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at UF's College of Medicine. Although the disease caused by Vibrio responds to antibiotic treatment if caught early enough, the trend toward research of phages is spurred in part by the increasing ineffectiveness of antibiotics in killing ever-more-resistant bacteria, he and other researchers said.

"Phages haven't been used in the United States since the early 20th century because antibiotics have worked pretty well," he said. "That's changing now, and there is more interest in investigating the phage alternative."

Vibrio vulnificus is related to the cholera bacterium and occurs naturally in the presence of microscopic algae in seawater. When oysters eat the algae, Vibrio becomes concentrated. People can come into contact with the bacterium by eating raw oysters (cooking the bivalves kills the bacterium), or by exposing an open wound to water or mud where the bacterium is present.

Most exposed people suffer no ill effects because their bodies easily fight off the bacterium. However, people who suffer from liver damage from alcohol-related cirrhosis, for example may become infected. There are 30 to 50 cases of V
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Contact: Paul Gulig
gulig@ufl.edu
352-392-0050
University of Florida
18-Dec-2002


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