A bacteriophage is a virus that only infects bacteria. There are thousands of bacteriophages, and they’re bacteria-specific. In other words, they only infect one species of bacteria. Some bacteriophages are lethal to the bacteria they infect. Phage therapy for treating bacterial infections dates back to the early twentieth century and has been associated with varying success. Interest in phage therapy for the treatment of bacterial infections declined after the discovery of penicillin. But interest has recently been renewed with the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Because certain bacteriophages are lethal to Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria associated with Lyme disease, phage therapy has been proposed as a treatment for Lyme disease. A big advantage over antibiotics is that bacteriophages specific for borrelia don’t harm normal flora in the gut or human cells. While this might seem to put borrelia-specific bacteriophages in the running for an ideal treatment for chronic Lyme disease, there are limitations.
When Lyme disease becomes chronic, the bacteria are intracellular — which means the bacteria survive inside cells in tissues throughout the body. The bacteria cannibalize the nutrients of the cell they infect to make more bacteria and only emerge to infect other cells when a cell has been used up. When inside cells, the bacteria would be completely protected from bacteriophages.
Therefore, bacteriophages can only kill borrelia when the bacteria emerge from cells, which means that to eradicate the bacteria, phage therapy must be administered continually for months or even years, which isn’t practical. Also, bacteria can develop resistance to bacteriophages.
In addition, anyone in the know about chronic Lyme disease is aware that people are infected with a range of different microbes that have the same or greater potential to cause illness as borrelia. Because testing for all possible microbes associated with chronic Lyme disease is limited, and every person is carrying different microbes, treating Lyme disease with specific phages for possible bacteria related to a person’s illness is impractical.
The greatest advantage of phage therapy is treating specific antibiotic-resistance bacteria, which are extracellular (exist in the body outside cells and therefore exposed to phages). But does it really help those with Lyme disease? It’s unknown because there are no published studies for using phage therapy to treat Lyme.
Similarly, the safety of phage therapy for chronic Lyme disease is unknown because there are no published studies on it.
Prices vary depending on where a person receives treatment, but the cost can rise as high as several thousands of dollars.
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Want to see more Lyme disease treatment ratings? See What Dr. Rawls has to say about popular treatments and therapies in his Lyme Disease Treatment Guide.
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