WASHINGTON — A mixture of six bacteria-killing viruses can be safely sprayed on meat and poultry to combat common microbes that kill hundreds of people a year, federal health officials said Friday.
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The mixture of special viruses, called bacteriophages, would target strains of Listeria monocytogenes, the Food and Drug Administration said in declaring it is safe to use. The viruses are designed to be sprayed on ready-to-eat meat and poultry products just before they are packaged.
The bacterium they target can cause a serious infection called listeriosis, primarily in pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems. In the United States, an estimated 2,500 persons become seriously ill with listeriosis each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 500 die.
The preparation of bacteriophages — the name is Greek for “bacteria-eater” — infects only various strains of the Listeria bacterium and not human or plant cells, the FDA said.
People normally come into contact with phages through food, water and the environment, and they are found in our digestive tracts, the FDA said.
The viral preparation is made by Intralytix Inc. The Baltimore company first petitioned the FDA in 2002 to allow the viruses to be used as a food additive.
Messages left with the company and the FDA were not immediately returned Friday.
The viruses are grown in a preparation of the very bacteria they kill, and then purified. The FDA had concerns that the virus preparation potentially could contain toxic residues associated with the bacteria. However, testing did not reveal the presence of such residues, which likely wouldn’t cause health problems anyway, the FDA said.
Scientists have long studied bacteriophages as a bacteria-fighting alternative to antibiotics.
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