I read about the therapeutic uses of bacteriophages in Pelczar's Microbiology. It was written that it is reasonable to think that bacteriophages could be used to kill pathogenic bacteria. However, the book also clearly stated that after a lot of research it was found that bacteriophages can't be used to kill bacteria in the human body because they can't survive inside the human body. But no reason was given why.

  • $\begingroup$ I think it's about a claim, that bacteriophages cannot survive in the human body and can therefore not be used as a treatment against bacterial infections. The question is fine, but it would be good to give the source of such claims. You say, you have done a lot of research. Showing your sources would help understanding the question. $\endgroup$
    – Frieke
    Jan 10, 2019 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ It would be better to quote from the book verbatim, especially as English is not your native language. The misuse of the word "sustain" is critical here. I have edited it out, but it would be better to know what exactly was written. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Jan 11, 2019 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ Well the book actually wrote sustain, yes English is not my native language but I'm not blind. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2019 at 15:14

1 Answer 1


This question cannot be answered, because the assumption behind your question is wrong. I haven't found a source to claim that bacteriophages cannot survive in the human body. Bacteriophages can and are, in fact, used as a treatment against human bacterial infections, it's called "phage therapy" (1,2,3).

This is, nevertheless, a rather uncommon procedure for a number of reasons:

  • Availability: Compared to antibiotics, which you can easily get from any doctor/pharmacy, phage therapy requires special facilities, because very specific phages need to be produced for each disease.
  • Safety and regulation: Virus handling requires special safety measures and using them in humans requires a lot of paperwork, safety tests and clinical trials.
  • Money: Due to the reasons above, phage therapy is a lot more expensive than antibiotics.
  • Lack of research: Thanks to the availability of antibiotics there was no urgent need to develop the application of phage therapy. We know comparably little about how the immune system might react to bacteriophages in the blood or bacterial toxins released by lysed bacteria. We haven't found a way to e.g. quickly engineer bacteriophages for diseases.

With a growing concern about multi-drug resistant bacteria, developing new ways to combat diseases has become more important. Maybe phage therapy will be one way to deal with this more regularly in the future.

  • $\begingroup$ Are the special safety rules for bacteriophage treatment really needed or only a matter of paranoid bureaucratic overhead? Intuitively, bacteriophages should be the safest viruses for humans to be exposed to considering they selectively infect bacteria (fundamentally different biological architecture from human cells). For bacteriophages to infect humans, first they need to figure out infecting eukaryotes, and then they need to adapt to the different ribosome structure (which also happens to be the reason why you can take macrolide antibiotics without shutting down your own ribosomes). $\endgroup$ Jan 22, 2019 at 5:04
  • $\begingroup$ While most phages are no threat for human health, they are "biological agents" falling into the biosafety level 1 regulation. When they are modified in the lab, that level might even increase. So, your lab needs to meet all safety standards to be allowed to handle them. journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/153567601001500106 $\endgroup$
    – Frieke
    Jan 23, 2019 at 10:35

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