Newswise — A recent study demonstrates that the general population supports the advancement of bacterium-eradicating viruses as a substitute for antibiotics. Additionally, increased endeavors in education will notably enhance their inclination to employ this therapy.

The crisis of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has resulted in the potential lethality of infections that were once manageable. Consequently, the pursuit of antibiotic alternatives, such as phage therapy, has been reinvigorated. Although initially investigated more than a century ago, this approach was relinquished in numerous nations in favor of antibiotics.

The study indicates that public receptiveness towards phage therapy is already moderately substantial. Moreover, exposing individuals to the concept of novel medicines and raising awareness about antibiotic resistance greatly amplifies their probability of adopting this treatment.

When phage therapy is presented without the use of perceived harsh terms like "kill" and "virus," but instead as a "natural bacterial predator," there is a greater level of acceptance among individuals.

Among the survey participants, a significant majority (92 percent) demonstrated a strong awareness of antibiotic resistance. However, the level of prior knowledge about phage therapy was considerably lower, with only 13 percent of respondents reporting previous familiarity with this treatment before the survey.

Their treatment preferences were influenced by factors such as the success rate and side effects, duration of treatment, and the approved usage of the medicine in various locations.

According to Dr. Banducci, "Although the understanding of phage therapy among the general public in the UK is currently limited, our research indicates a significant level of acceptance and support for its advancement. Merely providing limited information about antibiotic resistance and alternative treatments to antibiotics substantially enhances public acceptance of phage therapy."

Dr. Gold stated, "The individuals who participated in the research expressed a desire to learn more about phage therapy and were motivated to explore this subject further after completing our survey. Even a minimal amount of exposure to information about phage therapy considerably boosts acceptance."

To gain insights into the acceptance, opinions, and preferences of the UK public regarding phage therapy, researchers organized a workshop involving experts in the field. They also conducted a comprehensive review of phage research. Additionally, a survey was administered, which attracted the participation of 787 individuals. The survey was distributed in December 2021.

In the study, one group of participants was presented with two different scenarios. In the first scenario, they were presented with a minor infection, while in the second scenario, they were presented with an infection that had not responded well to antibiotics for a duration of three months. For each scenario, the group was asked to rank the selected attributes based on their importance in determining whether to accept a particular treatment or not.

Participants in the study were randomly assigned one of four descriptions of phage therapy, and their acceptance of the treatment was evaluated through a survey. The results showed a high overall acceptance of phage therapy among the participants. However, when phage therapy was described using perceived harsh words like "kill" and "virus," the acceptance rates were lower compared to alternative descriptions. Furthermore, participants who had recent exposure to information regarding antibiotic resistance and alternative treatments demonstrated a higher level of acceptance towards phage therapy.

Out of the 787 participants who completed the survey, 213 individuals provided written responses expressing their opinions on the potential of phage therapy. Within this group, 38 percent displayed a specific interest in the development of phage therapy, indicating their enthusiasm for its progress. Additionally, an additional 17 percent expressed support for the development of antibiotic alternatives in general, showcasing their broader endorsement of non-traditional treatment approaches.

Sophie McCammon stated, "One of the advantages of phage therapy is its tendency to have minimal side effects. By highlighting this aspect through education and marketing efforts, we may witness an increase in public acceptance of phage therapy."

"Although the routine clinical use of phage therapy in the UK may still be years away, the mounting pressures stemming from the AMR crisis necessitate an evaluation of the UK public's acceptance towards alternative treatments."

"The public's demand for enhanced education is evident. Implementing interactive programs that engage children in phage research not only fosters enthusiasm for the therapy in the present, but also raises awareness among the generation that is more likely to rely on antibiotic alternatives in the future."

Journal Link: PLoS ONE