Frequently Asked Questions

About Phage Therapy

What are phages? What is phage therapy?

  • Phages are naturally occurring viruses that attack, infect and feed on bacteria. They are the most abundant organisms in nature. They are everywhere – in food, water, air, and even in our bodies. Any environment that has bacteria in it also has phages that feed on those bacteria.
  • Phage therapy is the use of phages to treat bacterial infections.

Why have I not heard of phage therapy before?

  • Phage therapy has been used for treating infectious conditions for almost 100 years in eastern European countries like Georgia and Russia. It did not become popular in the rest of the world because after the discovery of penicillin, the global medical industry focussed its efforts on the development of antibiotics. The Cold War between the western countries and the erstwhile Soviet Union further widened the gap in the world’s knowledge of phage therapy. However, as antibiotics are failing in treating an increasing number of infections today, western interest is reviving in phage therapy as a strong alternative to antibiotics.

How does phage therapy work?

  • Based on the infection, the patient is given a phage preparation that is sensitive to the infection. After consuming this phage medication, the phages travel through the body towards the bacteria they are sensitive towards. Once they reach the bacteria at the site of infection, they attach onto the bacterial cells, and inject their DNA into the cells. This DNA then uses the bacterial cell’s machinery to reproduce very rapidly, making an army of new phages inside the cell.
    As the number of phages continues to grow rapidly in the cell, it is no longer able to contain the invading phages. It bursts and the new phages spread to other cells of the same bacterium, looking to reproduce, and thus the cycle continues till there are no more bacterial cells left for the phages to invade. Once all the bacteria are dead, the phages can no longer replicate, and are flushed out from the body.

What are the conditions that phage therapy can treat?

  • Phage therapy can be used to treat a vast number of bacterial infections. It can treat 9 out of the 12 bacteria listed in WHO’s recent list of “priority pathogens” – superbugs that are resistant to all antibiotics available globally.
  • Please take a look at our page Conditions Phage Therapy Treats to know the conditions commonly treated using phage therapy.

What are the advantages of phage therapy over antibiotics?

  • Phages have numerous advantages over antibiotics:
  • Antibiotics Phages and Phage Therapy
    Antibiotics are broad spectrum – they attack many types of bacteria at the same time. This includes the bad, pathogenic bacteria, as well as the good bacteria that help in our digestion and in maintaining our body’s immunity. Phages only attack their specific bacteria. They do not attack the bacteria in our body that they are not specific for.
    Antibiotics have side effects, sometimes very strong ones, such as kidney damage, tendon damage etc. An overdose of antibiotics can adversely impact our immune system, and can be dangerous for the body and its vital organs. Phages do not have side effects, so they can be used over a long period of time, if needed, such as in cases of chronic infection.
    Antibiotic molecules fight bacteria and get destroyed as part of the process. In areas where the antibiotic reaches in limited quantities, this is a disadvantage because sub-lethal quantities lead to bacteria forming resistance against the antibiotic. This renders them ineffective for treating these infections in hard to reach places. Phages replicate at the site of the infection. So if the infection is in an area of the body where medicines do not reach easily, such as the prostate gland, even if a small quantity of phages reaches the infection, they can quickly multiply themselves and start destroying the bacterial infection.
    Once a bacterium develops resistance to an antibiotic, that antibiotic can do nothing to overcome this resistance. It essentially becomes unusable against this strain of bacteria. Phages are “living” organisms. If bacteria try to form resistance against phages, phages evolve themselves to overcome the bacteria’s resistance. This is how they are in nature, and are therefore more robust against bacterial infections than antibiotics.
    Bacteria create protective mucous layers around themselves called ‘biofilm’. Antibiotics are unable to penetrate biofilms and eradicate the bacteria protected within. This allows the infection persist and grow. Phages are able to penetrate through bacterial biofilm and eradicate the bacteria protected within. Therefore, even persistent bacterial infections hidden inside biofilms can be treated using phages.
  • Please see this study and others in our Reference Library for more details on the advantages of phage therapy.

Are there any bacterial infections that cannot be treated by phages?

  • Infections caused by intracellular bacteria such as Mycoplasma, Ureaplasma, Tuberculosis, Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea etc. cannot be treated by phages.

Safety and Side Effects

Are phages safe for humans?

  • Yes, phages are safe for humans. Phages only attack their specific bacteria. They do not harm human cells.

Will phages destroy all the bacteria in my body?

  • No. Phages are very specific in nature. Each type of phage is meant only for one kind of bacteria – the phage has a receptor that only recognises a particular strain of bacteria, and therefore can only infect that bacteria. So when you take phages for a particular infection, they will only destroy the bacteria causing the infection, and not the other bacteria in your body.

Can there be any adverse reactions or side effects from taking phages?

  • As long as the phage medication is prepared and administered correctly, phages should not have any adverse reactions or side effects on the human body.
  • Please see this study and others in our Reference Library for more information regarding the safety of phage therapy.

Can phages be used along with antibiotics?

  • Yes, phages can be used along with antibiotics.

Testing

What tests will be conducted on me to determine my infection?

  • A sample from the site of infection will be taken and sent to the Center's laboratory for microscopy, culture and phage sensitivity testing. The results of these tests will show what pathogens are causing your infection, as well as whether they are sensitive to standard phage medications.

What if my infection is not sensitive to standard phage medications?

  • In this case, a phage preparation will be custom made for your particular strain of bacteria. This is called “autophage”. It takes about 6 weeks to prepare autophage medication.

What if I also have a fungal or parasitical infection?

  • In case you have a fungal or parasitical infection, it will be treated using regular allopathic medicines.

Taking the Treatment

How much does it cost to undergo phage therapy?

  • Please refer to the Center's website for details on treatment charges.
  • If you go to the Center for treatment, the charges are EUR 3900. This will include all testing, doctor’s appointments and all standard phage medication needed for your treatment. All payments will be made at the Center, once you agree to the treatment plan and sign the Patient Information/Consent Form
  • In case your infection is resistant to all standard phage preparations, a custom made “autophage” will be prepared specifically for you. This will cost an additional EUR 1400.
  • There is the option of Distance Treatment for people who are unable to travel to Georgia but want to take phage therapy. Please contact us for further details on this option.
  • All services provided by Vitalis Phage Therapy are free of charge.

How will the phage medication be administered?

  • Depending on the site of your infection, the doctors will decide how the phage medicines are administered to you. It will generally be oral administration, and topical administration wherever possible.
  • I had prostatitis and a related condition of epididymitis. For these, I was given oral medicine, suppositories and urethral instillations.

How long will it take to cure my infection/ condition?

  • Each case is separate, and the same kind of infection can take different amounts of time to cure for different people. Your doctor will assess your condition and give you a reasonable estimate of the time it might take to treat you.

Will language be a problem in my communication with my doctor?

  • You will be provided with an interpreter for your meetings with the doctor and for all other communication at the Center, so that language is not a barrier for your effective communication.

I want to undergo phage therapy. What do I do?

  • Please contact us so that we can guide you in taking the right steps towards your phage therapy journey.

About Tbilisi and Georgia

Where is Georgia?

  • Georgia is a country along the Black Sea, neighbouring Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey. It is considered part of Eastern Europe.

Is Tbilisi a safe place to travel to?

  • Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is a very safe place to travel to. The people there are warm and friendly. The crime rate in Georgia is amongst the lowest in the world.

Do I need a visa to travel to Georgia?

  • As an Indian passport holder, you need a visa to travel to Georgia. European, American and Gulf countries’ passport holders can travel to Georgia for short term visits without taking a Georgian visa. Please see the Georgian VFS Georgia Visa website or the Georgia consular website for more details. You can also contact us to help you figure out your visa application requirements.

Where do I stay in Tbilisi during my treatment?

  • Tbilisi is tourist-friendly city with many hotels across varying price points. There are many hotels within walking distance of the Center, with prices varying from USD $ 40-225 per night. We have a ready list of the hotels within walking distance of the Center, and will be happy to guide you in finding the right place to stay.

What is the weather like in Tbilisi?

  • Tbilisi has temperate climate, with warm summers and cold winters. Summer months are from May till September, and the coldest month of the winter is January.

Is the Center open all year round?

  • The Center has 2 major holidays - it is closed in August for 3 weeks for summer break and from Dec 23 till Jan 10 for the Christmas and New Year break.
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