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

ibrio vulnificus disease reported annually in the United States. Although rare, the disease is severe and often fatal, killing between 50 percent and 75 percent of those who are infected. The bacterium causes flu-like symptoms, followed by high fever, shock and half-dollar sized blood blisters mostly on the patient's legs.

Gulig and Donna Duckworth, a professor of molecular genetics and microbiology and co-author of the article, said because Vibrio resembles the flu or less-harmful diseases, it often remains undiagnosed until its later stages. At that point, the disease does not respond well to antibiotics, whence its high mortality rate, they said. Seeking an alternative to antibiotics, he and Duckworth decided to test the effectiveness of phages in attacking the disease.

The scientists isolated phages that prey naturally on the bacterium from oysters purchased from seafood markets and in mud collected from oyster beds in Florida's coastal waters. They grew the phages in the laboratory, then injected solutions containing concentrated amounts of the virus into the tail veins of mice infected with Vibrio. The result: The researchers found the phages cured the mice even well after they had begun experiencing symptoms of the disease.

"It was very clear that the phage treatment for many of the mice could completely protect them. It could prevent death, and it could essentially clear the mice of bacteria," Gulig said. "We showed that, in typical infections of mice, we get 100 million bacteria per gram of tissue, and in these treated mice we essentially could not detect any bacteria at all."

Gulig said the project didn't compare the phages with similarly timed antibiotic treatments, so the researchers couldn't say which is more effective. But phages have some tantalizing advantages over antibiotics, he said. While antibiotics naturally become diluted and leave the body after a period of time, phages grow and multiply until they have preyed on all t
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Contact: Paul Gulig
gulig@ufl.edu
352-392-0050
University of Florida
18-Dec-2002


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