When you think of the word silver do you think of a metal, a chemical element or even a fancy piece of jewellery? Or do you think of a solider in the fight against infection? You probably don’t think of a zombie apocalypse that’s for sure.
Actually silver has a wide range of uses but historically it’s been used in medicine for centuries. The use of silver dates back to ancient civilisations including the Greeks and Romans. The Romans used to store wine in silver barrels to prevent it going off. Fast forward to the early 1800’s and there's evidence confirming that silver was widely used medicinally. Silver sutures were used post surgery to fight infection and soldiers injured in battle were treated with silver leaf, which was applied to open wounds. By the 20th century colloidal silver was commonly being used in hospitals as a wound wash, a general germicide and to treat conditions including conjunctivitis. It was even administered IV for kidney infections.
So 21st century here we are, and silver is still widely used medicinally. It’s commonly seen in hospitals, both human and equine, as a critical element of wound dressing. Silver lined bandages have routinely been used for years as well as colloidal silver wound flushes. Most people who own a horse, at some point in their equine joy filled lives, will have walked away from the vets with a pot of Flamazine cream, and if your horse has had a cut, a skin infection, a sore or anything out of the ordinary, most people will of been told by someone else to “put some Flamazine cream on it”. Well, Flamazine cream is (pretty much) just emollient with silver added to it. Already being used in veterinary practices, silver was quick to take off in the commercial equine market. It seems a minefield when you look at the range of silver powered products but how do they actually work? What’s so magically special about it?
As far as pathogens are concerned silver is a huge threat. Imagine a zombie apocalypse, because that’s pretty much it! Take bacteria for example, silver makes a hole in its outer layer. If silver was actually a zombie it would bite the bacteria! Once it’s in there it does all sorts of crazy and cool stuff by taking over the bacteria’s basic functions. Ultimately turning it into a zombie, and as it can’t function and meet it’s basic needs, it dies! So you would think now the infected cell is dead the surrounding bacteria cells would be safe… because an infection isn’t ever one single bacterial cell. Well no, the dead bacteria acts like a sponge, soaking up the silver, it then becomes toxic to the living bacteria. That’s when the massacre occurs. The dead turn the living into zombies, until the zombies die and the cycle repeats.
It’s no surprise that silver is so widely seen on the equine market now but it still seems a minefield in terms of products. Wound care items such as silver based gels, emollients and sprays are common and available all over the internet. It’s even used in some hoof oils and balms to kill bacteria and fungi that are commonly found in the hoof but can lead to problems such as thrush. There are even silver socks for horses, silver bandages for exercise and silver lined rugs. The important thing when buying any silver based product, especially a topical one, is to look at the other ingredients and how they work as a product. For example an emollient based silver cream predominantly sits on the skin due to it being lipid (fat) based where as a silver gel would penetrate into the skin to get to where it needs to be, getting to get to work more efficiently. Also what are the other benefits to the ingredients in the products? Are they just cheap fillers or do they serve a purpose too?
The fact of the matter is that most silver products are great for killing pathogens and providing that ‘zombie apocalypse’ effect, but the overall product should be evaluated to meet the needs of each equine. Silver is a clever and often underestimated little solider in the war against infection and diseases.
Amber Sellers - BscHons Biomedical Science