Safety and efficacy of phage therapy via the intravenous route

FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2016 Feb;363(3):fnv242. doi: 10.1093/femsle/fnv242. Epub 2015 Dec 20.


Increasing development of antimicrobial resistance is driving a resurgence in interest in phage therapy: the use of bacteriophages to treat bacterial infections. As the lytic action of bacteriophages is unaffected by the antibiotic resistance status of their bacterial target, it is thought that phage therapy may have considerable potential in the treatment of a wide range of topical and localized infections. As yet this interest has not extended to intravenous (IV) use, which is surprising given that the historical record shows that phages are likely to be safe and effective when delivered by this route. Starting almost 100 years ago, phages were administered intravenously in treatment of systemic infections including typhoid, and Staphylococcal bacteremia. There was extensive IV use of phages in the 1940s to treat typhoid, reportedly with outstanding efficacy and safety. The safety of IV phage administration is also underpinned by the detailed work of Ochs and colleagues in Seattle who have over four decades' experience with IV injection into human subjects of large doses of highly purified coliphage PhiX174. Though these subjects included a large number of immune-deficient children, no serious side effects were observed over this extended time period. The large and continuing global health problems of typhoid and Staphylococcus aureus are exacerbated by the increasing antibiotic resistance of these pathogens. We contend that these infections are excellent candidates for use of IV phage therapy.

Keywords: Staphylococcus aureus; bacteriophage therapy; intravenous route; typhoid.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intravenous / adverse effects*
  • Bacteriophages / growth & development*
  • Biological Therapy / adverse effects*
  • Biological Therapy / methods*
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Humans
  • Staphylococcal Infections / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Typhoid Fever / therapy*