Superbug crisis threatens to kill 10 million per year by 2050. Scientists may have a solution
Cynthia Horton’s earaches are the stuff of nightmares.
“I can wake up from my sleep in horrible pain, like I’m having a root canal with no anesthesia,” she said. “When I sit up, my ear is often weeping with infection, even oozing blood.”
Already weakened by a lifelong battle with lupus, Horton’s immune system was devastated by rounds of radiation and chemotherapy after a 2003 surgery for a cancerous tumor in her ear.
Ear infections became the norm, usually eased by a round of antibiotics. But as the years passed, the bacteria in 61-year old Horton’s ear became resistant to antibiotics, often leaving her with little to no relief.
“These multi-drug-resistant superbugs can cause chronic infections in individuals for months to years to sometimes decades. It’s ridiculous just how virulent some of these bacteria get over time,” said Dwayne Roach, assistant professor of bacteriophages, infectious disease and immunology at San Diego State University.
Last year doctors offered to treat Horton’s infection with one of nature’s oldest predators — tiny tripod-looking viruses called phages designed to find, attack and gobble up bacteria.