Rogue agents always add a thrilling plot twist in any spy television show, movie or Tom Clancy novel. The devastating impact these evildoers have on the world increases suspense and concern for the characters -- and bystanders -- who may become victims. Inevitably, it is up to those who strive for good to hunt down the friends turned foe and put an end to their malicious actions.
In the world of germs, this unfortunate plot has been occurring over the last decade leaving many of us wondering if our body's homeland is at risk.
The agents are bacteria known as Clostridium difficile, better known as C-DIFF. They can be found everywhere, from our guts to the ground. Normally, they are harmless and make up a part of the trillions of bacteria that live in and around us without causing any problems. They arrive when we are infants and stick with us all the while leaving no indication they are there.
But there is a rogue element amongst C-DIFF that has gone on to cause not only headlines, but misery. Known as Toxigenic C. difficle -- TCD -- this one particular faction has been lurking in the shadows for decades. But they emerged into the public spotlight thanks to a specific splinter cell of the TCDs, scientifically codenamed BI/NAP1/027.
The date was 2004, and the setting a hospital in Quebec. When BI/NAP1/027 struck, the world was taken aback by an incredible ferocity that infected over 1,700 people and left hundreds dead. But this was only the beginning as TCD and BI/NAP1/027 have since spread worldwide. The fear now grips anyone who happened to be at risk -- the elderly, young children, people taking antibiotics, and those with compromised immune systems.
The situation is worsened as both TCD and BI/NAP1/027 are resistant to our most common treatments, such as disinfectants, antiseptics and even certain antibiotics. The situation can only be resolved by taking drastic action, such as biological warfare using C-DIFF killing bacteriophages or chemical weapons specifically designed to kill C-DIFF. There are also less militaristic options, such as fecal transplantation and probiotics which can prevent TCD attacks from happening. Unfortunately, these two options, while more natural and potentially safe, continue to have detractors in the public health field who would rather stick with the attack mentality.
There may be another option. Recently, a group of researchers from the Vines VA Hospital in Illinois have taken a page from the fictional pages to uncover a means to control the evil BI/NAP1/027 by using their good C-DIFF counterparts. The work hails back to thirty-year old efforts to control the TCD element using hamsters as a model. Back then, the team colonized the animals with normal C-DIFF in order to set up a force that would be ready for TCD when it appeared. Sure enough, when TCDs were introduced into the animals colonized by normal C-DIFF, they were neutralized.
In this week's article, the research team used the same approach but instead of normal TCDs, they used the BI/NAP1/027. The results were impressive as infection was prevented. The findings also revealed a weakness of the BI/NAP1/027 agents. While they could impressively withstand human intervention, they simply could not evade their C-DIFF counterparts. This opens up yet another potential weapon in the fights against TCD and BI/NAP1/027. However, this was only conducted in hamsters, not people. Time is still needed before we can use the agents of good to foil those causing us harm.
This new revelation should help to keep up the diligence against these microbial threats while we find the proper measures to control them. This means working hard to maintain our own health and hygiene and preventing these rogues from coming into contact with us. More importantly, the data increases our confidence that the peril posed will soon come to an end. As with any show or novel, the good guys always seem to win. Hopefully, this fictional outcome will soon be our reality and our world will become a safer place.