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When Antibiotics Failed, This Woman Turned To Phage Therapy To Save Her Husband

When Antibiotics Failed, This Woman Turned To Phage Therapy To Save Her Husband

Bacterial infections are always painful and sometimes difficult to treat, especially when the bacteria in question develop resistance to antibiotics. This was the case of Thomas Patterson, then 72 years old, who found himself suffering from Acinetobacter baumannii, a bacterium resistant to all antibiotics. Fortunately, his wife was able to save him through phage therapy. This story is relayed by our colleagues from The Guardian.


The couple in question, Steffanie Strathdee and Thomas Patterson, were quietly enjoying their vacation in Egypt in 2015 when Thomas suddenly fell very ill. The septuagenarian has contracted a deadly super-bacteria infection caused by Acinetobacter baumannii, a bacteria resistant to all antibiotics. Although doctors tried 12 different antibiotics, Thomas' health was only getting worse. His wife Steffanie, who is an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of California Faculty of Medicine, San Diego, managed to find a long-forgotten miracle solution that saved her husband's life: phage therapy.

What is a bacterial infection?

Although they exist naturally in the human body, certain so-called "bad" bacteria are pathogens for humans and cause various infectious diseases which can be more or less easily cured depending on the location of the infection and the nature of the infecting agent. In order to get rid of these infections, antibiotics specific to the bacteria in question are generally prescribed by doctors.

Thomas's early symptoms and diagnosis
The couple confided in our TODAY colleagues on their fight against Acinetobacter baumannii. Thomas told them, "I got a severe nausea that woke me up overnight, and I threw up all night and all morning the next day. A doctor tried to treat me with antibiotics, but my condition only got worse. "

He was then evacuated to Germany on December 4 where he was found to have a gallstone that had caused him a large cyst. Other tests have shown that he has a very serious and fatal infection. He was therefore re-evacuated to San Diego, California, on December 14.

His wife, Steffanie, said that gallstones caused the abscess to form long before their trip to Egypt, but that the super bacteria were of Egyptian origin. The bacteria had found in its abscess a cozy home to reproduce.

What is acinetobacter baumannii?

Steffanie explains that: "Acinetobacter baumannii is a bacterium which, until the last two decades, was considered to be quite weak. However, it has the ability to steal the genes for antibiotic resistance from other bacteria. I call it the "kleptomaniac bacteria".

The result is that it is not eliminated like other bacteria when taking antibiotics. In addition, when these bacteria are eliminated, the super-bacteria takes up their space.

Complications of infection
"She infiltrated her blood system sometimes, and it caused her septic shock. Each episode has a 50% risk of death and Tom had 7. He was delusional, lost a lot of weight and couldn't eat anything without vomiting, so he was fed with a feeding tube ”a reported his wife.

A quick fix?
When doctors ran out of solutions, Steffanie discovered the option of phage therapy by searching for alternative treatments on the internet: "Phages are viruses that naturally attack bacteria. It’s like an alternative to nature’s antibiotics […] but was gradually overlooked after the onset of penicillin. ”

In February 2016, Steffanie called for help and a Texas A&M researcher responded. He searched for phages corresponding to her husband's bacterial infection and discovered 4. They started phage therapy on March 15, 2016 and Thomas came out of a coma on March 20. He then remained in hospital until August 2016 to fully recover from his infectious episode.

How to protect yourself from infections
We are constantly faced with nests of bacteria in our daily life such as doorknobs, elevators, telephones, stair railings, etc. Here are the tips of the APHP to protect yourself:

Wash your hands: protect yourself from infection by washing your hands regularly with soap and water, especially after using the toilet or touching objects or surfaces in public spaces.

Do not take too many antibiotics: Everyone now knows the famous expression: "Antibiotics are not automatic". Indeed, the latter are only effective in the case of bacterial infection. Thus, it should only be taken when it is necessary to the risk of allowing bacteria to develop resistance.

Respect the duration of treatment: Avoid taking antibiotics unless you are sure you have contracted a bacterial infection and not a viral one, and respect the duration of treatment prescribed by your doctor to avoid once again that bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics.