Use of Silver in the Prevention and Treatment of Infections

As medical science struggles to cope with a growing number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, an ancient remedy has begun to re-emerge as a possible solution, silver. This precious metal has been used to fight infection for thousands of years, and now a growing amount of research has begun to provide evidence of the incredible ability of silver to prevent and even treat infections.

As a result, silver is now seeing use in an increasing number of applications, from topical creams to advanced heart grafts. Anywhere a risk of infection is present, silver is seeing a growing amount of application to prevent and treat the infection while overcoming antibiotic resistance.

History

History

Silver has been recorded as a treatment for illnesses for more than two thousand years since the time of Hippocrates and likely was used far longer still. Since the start of the twentieth century, the precious metal has been used to prevent and treat infection long before the introduction of antibiotics.

From the time of ancient Greece to American settlers, silver has been used as an anti-microbial for preventing the growth of microbes, and even more recently, NASA has used it for the same reason on space shuttles. Silver has been used in an incredible array of medical purposes, from sutures to disinfectants for wounds. In World War 1, soldiers even used silver leaf dressings for treating wounds.

However, in the wake of World War 2 and the introduction of effective antibiotics, silver began to be phased out of common medicines. However, this effective natural anti-microbial began to make a comeback in the 1960s as a treatment for burn wounds and since has proven effective in an incredible range of applications.

How it Works

The incredible ability of silver to kill bacteria, fungi, and even certain viruses is due to the positively charged silver ions. These ions affect microorganisms through several different modes of action. First of all, these silver ions will bond to proteins in the cell membrane that carry substances into and out of the cell. Often this can help starve the bacteria and even effectively “punch holes” in the cell wall.

Once in the cell, these ions will also bond to DNA, effectively stopping cell division. Finally, the silver ions will also block the cell’s respiratory system stopping its respiratory action and killing it. This has proven to be incredibly effective at destroying an incredible range of bacteria while preventing bacteria from developing resistance due to its multiple methods of action.

 

Topical Application for Burns

The topical application of sulfur through creams, including silver sulfadiazine, revolutionized treatment for burns in the 1960s. These topical silver applications, when regularly applied, can effectively prevent infection through their anti-microbial properties while protecting the burn area by forming a protective barrier against wounds.

This can accelerate wound healing and provide significantly better outcomes for burn patients. This includes promoting the healing process and accelerating recovery times. In addition, these topical applications can reduce scarring while supporting the natural healing process.

These topical dressings have been in wide use as a treatment method and have continued to be used to this day and are still widely available for use, even over the counter, as a first aid treatment for minor to moderate burns.

Topical Application for Ulcers

Ulcers such as venous leg ulcers are a common variety of chronic wounds which ordinarily have slow recovery times and severe effects on quality of life. Ordinary treatments are often cumbersome and take years to have an effect. This is also accompanied by a high rate of infection that can further slow recovery.

Silver is an effective anti-microbial agent that has recently received support as a possible treatment for ulcers. Topical application of silver, as well as silver-containing dressings, can provide effective protection from infection as well as help reduce the wound area.

The broad-spectrum anti-microbial effect of silver can have a far superior effect in protecting against the many types of bacteria that can colonize chronic wounds such as ulcers. This can promote faster recovery and is far more cost-effective than other popular treatment methods. As a result, silver is increasingly being used as an effective treatment method for ulcers.

Surgical Incisions

Surgical site infections are some of the most dangerous infections that an individual can develop and are a common issue in the wake of any surgery. These infections can reach deep and slow down healing and accompanying recovery times.

However, silver which has long been used in the treatment of surgical sites post-operation is seeing an increase in use. Studies have shown that silver-containing dressings can help to prevent infection and reduce inflammation of the surgical site.

In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cleared wound dressings containing silver as an anti-bacterial treatment, and with its low toxicity, silver can be an incredible tool to help accelerate recovery and improve outcomes and recovery times for surgical incisions. As a result, silver can be an incredible tool for preventing surgical site infection and caring for surgical incisions in the recovery period.

Blood Stream Infections

Bloodstream infections are an extremely dangerous variety of infections highly associated with the use of venous catheters. When these catheters are snorted into the bloodstream, it can result in the introduction of bacteria into the bloodstream.

However, studies have indicated that silver-impregnated venous catheters may help prevent these infections from occurring. Through techniques such as introducing silver plating dressing for the catheter, bacteria can be prevented from entering the central line and, as a result, the bloodstream.

Urinary Tract Infections

Silver is a common home remedy for urinary tract infections. Colloidal silver is typically the choice for this purpose. Often, the people using colloidal silver for urinary tract infections have used antibiotics and found that they still had symptoms.

These people find that colloidal silver seems to help where other treatments fail. It’s thought that this treatment may work because it does not work on any specific bacteria but instead works on a wide variety of bacteria. Also, since nanoparticles of colloidal silver are so small, they may be able to quickly enter very difficult-to-reach areas, such as the bladder lining. Antibiotics can sometimes take months to effectively kill infections in these difficult-to-reach areas.

Another advantage to using colloidal silver for urinary tract infections is that there is minimal risk of bacterial resistance, which can be a problem with many antibiotics.

According to a 12-month randomized crossover trial, silver can also help reduce the occurrence of nosocomial urinary tract infections that are associated with catheter use. During the study, it was found that the risk of infection among patients in wards in whom silver catheters were used decreased by 32%.

Ventilator/Endotracheal Tubes

Ventilator-associated pneumonia can be dangerous and extremely unpleasant for patients that require endotracheal tubes. Particularly in the early stages of their use, a systematic review of studies pertaining to the use of silver-impregnated endotracheal tubes has shown a high degree of effectiveness in reducing the occurrence of these infections.

These silver endotracheal tubes can prevent microbiological life from developing and help to prevent infections. These tubes have proven to be effective enough for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to clear one model of an endotracheal tube that uses a fine coating of silver to reduce the risk of developing pneumonia associated with ventilator usage.

Orthopedic Hardware

Infections associated with implants have proven to be an extremely major source of risk in orthopedic surgeries. These risks have only grown as antibiotic-resistant bacteria have grown in prevalence. As a result, much research has gone into developing materials that can prevent microorganisms from colonizing these implants and causing infections.

One of the most promising materials is, perhaps unsurprisingly, silver-containing materials such as hydroxyapatite. The ability of silver to kill bacteria through several mechanisms makes it ideal for preventing antibiotic-resistant bacteria from colonizing the implant.

As a result, orthopedic hardware made with silver coatings or silver nanoparticles can help to prevent infections. This can greatly help to protect patients and help with recovery both from surgery and with long-term outcomes.

Vascular Prostheses

When vascular surgery is performed, vessels must be replaced with another material, and when possible, vessels from the same individual undergoing surgery will be used. However, in some cases, this is impossible, and artificial vascular prostheses must be used instead.

These vascular prostheses have long presented increased risks, often most dangerously prosthetic vascular graft infection. Despite medical sciences’ best efforts, these infections have continued to be a prevalent and extremely dangerous issue.

However, promisingly, grafts including anti-microbial silver coatings in the form of ionic silver acetate, have proven to potentially prevent these infections. In fact, studies have indicated that these coatings can improve the body’s ability to incorporate the implants while protecting the patient from infections with their anti-microbial properties.

Heart Valves

Heart valves require one of the most intense surgeries and can present significant complications for surgeons. Among the most serious complications is prosthetic valve endocarditis (PVE). This is a serious foreign body infection that can occur when replacing heart valves. This infection is extremely dangerous and possesses a high mortality rate for those affected.

Many techniques have been used to prevent as well as treat these infections. One of the newest and most promising of these techniques is to use silver. Specifically a silver-coated, sewing cuff heart valve. By introducing silver ions through deposits on the surface of the sewing cuff on heart valve prostheses, bacteria and other microorganisms can be prevented from colonizing the surface.

Developments such as these are crucial for preventing infections during major surgeries. Through these techniques, silver has proven to have strong potential to save many lives for those undergoing heart valve replacement.

Adverse Effects

Silver has a low level of toxicity. However, a person’s body does not have any biological use for the substance. So, it will build up in the body, especially in the skin. Additionally, if a person uses silver on a regular basis and spends time in the sun, their skin could turn blue-gray or blue due to a condition known as argyria. The condition has been treated with laser therapy in some cases, but the treatments are painful and must be done under general anesthesia.

Silver can also interact with certain medications. So, it is essential for anyone taking prescription drugs to check with a doctor or pharmacist before using silver. Also, it is possible to be allergic to silver, in which case, it is important not to use it as a treatment or to use any medical devices that contain silver.

Conclusion

The threat of infection has always been present, but in recent years the rapid and increasing emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has raised the dangers and challenges related to infection immensely. As a result, silver, which has long been recognized for its natural ability to prevent and even treat infections, is seeing rapid growth in its application throughout medicine as a safe and more effective alternative to many traditional medical techniques.

Research is continuing to prove the ability of silver to effectively address the challenges related to infection and apply this precious material to new medical applications. The potential for silver in the prevention and treatment of infections from a wide range of microorganisms is only just beginning to be recognized, and the current research has shown that the future is bright for this precious metal.

In Post Image Credit: By Pearson Scott Foresman – Public Domain