We’ve always sung the praises of bacteriophages, those handy little viruses that kill infectious bacteria, saving the trouble of deploying antibiotics. But now a paper in Nature suggests they have a further unexpected use, as indicators to make vaccination programmes efficient and cheap.
If you want to avoid the use of precious antibiotics, vaccinate your population. Take typhoid for example. It’s a filthy, horrible disease that lurks in dirty water. Despite best efforts, it’s still killing about 140 000 people a year. What if you could vaccinate whole populations, especially in high risk areas, and bring down its prevalence to nought? Easier said than done. Vaccination programmes are difficult and expensive. First you have to identify your target area, and finding the bacterium Salmonella enterica: serotype Typhus can be tricky, expensive and unreliable. But there’s a ray of hope. Teams at the University of Lisbon and others have found that the bacteriophages which infect the bacterium are much more robust than their host, and survive for much longer in water samples. Making identification, targeting and planning in at risk areas a whole lot simpler. 
We always like it it when someone flips an existing idea and takes it in a sudden, new and unexpectedly beneficial direction. Looks like these people have done it again.
#typhoid #antibiotic resistance #vaccination #clean water #bacteriophage