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The End of Antibiotics?

The End of Antibiotics?

‘A Post-Antibiotic Apocalypse’ Is On the Horizon
The era of antibiotics is ‘coming to a close,’ says the August 12th Guardian.

With the once ‘miracle medicines’ now ‘beaten into ineffectiveness by the bacteria they were designed to knock out,’ we could be entering a ‘post-antibiotic apocalypse’ in which pneumonia could again become the ‘mass-killer’ it once was, especially among the old and frail; in which gonorrhea becomes extremely hard to treat; in which tuberculosis is simply ‘incurable.’ Need a transplant for a kidney or other organ? You’d best forget it, says the Guardian, as organ recipients’ immune systems will be unable to fight off infections without antibiotics. And surgery for a burst appendix will again become ‘dangerous.’

And the worst of it is, this ‘post-antibiotic apocalypse’ could have been avoided. While bacteria have become increasingly resistant to the antibiotics out there, drug companies have not been undertaking the difficult research to develop new ones. Unlikes medicines for conditions like heart disease, people typically take antibiotics for a week; drug companies, therefore, stand to profit much less from them. Too, ‘because resistance means the drugs become useless after a while,’ the money is simply not in antibiotics.

New Study on the Spread of Multi-Drug Resistant Bacteria 

The Guardian article draws on a newly published study in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases:

Last September, [Professor Tim] Walsh published details of a gene he had discovered, called NDM 1, which passes easily between types of bacteria called enterobacteriaceae such as E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae and makes them resistant to almost all of the powerful, last-line group of antibiotics called carbapenems. Yesterday’s paper revealed that NDM 1 is widespread in India and has arrived here as a result of global travel and medical tourism for, among other things, transplants, pregnancy care and cosmetic surgery.

“In many ways, this is it,” Walsh tells [Guardian reporter Sarah Boseley]. “This is potentially the end. There are no antibiotics in the pipeline that have activity against NDM 1-producing enterobacteriaceae. We have a bleak window of maybe 10 years, where we are going to have to use the antibiotics we have very wisely, but also grapple with the reality that we have nothing to treat these infections with.”

It could be said that, like vaccines, antibiotics have become the victims of their own success. Just as—thanks to vaccines—many of us no longer get measles or other infectious diseases (whooping cough, for one), so have we ceased to see pneumonia as fatal, much less tuberculosis. 

Remember MRSA?
The Guardian mentions the MRSA scare of ten years ago when patients in hospitals were ‘picking up Staphylococcus aureus infections that were resistant to the hitherto powerful antibiotic methicillin.’ Hospital hygiene was vastly stepped up and pharmaceutical companies have put more resources into developing new antibiotics to fight against MRSA and also C. diff (Clostridium difficile). But these are ultimately just stop-gap measures because

Bacteria are great survivors. The biggest threat now, experts believe, is from multi-drug-resistant Gram-negative bacteria, such as NDM 1-producing enterobacteriaceae and an enzyme called KPC which has spread in the US (and in Israel and Greece) which also gives bacteria resistance to the carbapenems, the most powerful group of antibiotics we (once) had.

In other words, without the development soon of new antibiotics, ‘superbug[s]‘ like MRSA could again spread and cause ‘front-page panic.’

 

Who Hasn’t Taken Amoxicillin?

As a parent, it used to be a routine thing for me to show up yet again at the pharmacy to get prescriptions filled (and refilled) for antibiotics when my son Charlie had ear infections (when he was a toddler) and other illnesses. As he’s minimally verbal and really can’t tell us when he has a physical pain, where it is, or any of that, whenever Charlie’ss had an infection, his pediatrician has tended to give him an antibiotic ‘just to be sure’ that whatever Charlie has gets done away with. 

 

I’ll never forget the smell of amoxicillin, half a bottle of which I spilled on the carpet of our (rental) apartment when I was trying to get toddler Charlie to take his dose (this was in the time when he kept getting ear infections). When Charlie was much younger, we even had some worries about antibiotic overuse and how antibiotics affected Charlie’s gastrointestinal system. 

 

But the truth of the matter is, especially as the parent of a child with disabilities which include severe speech and communication difficulties and a lot of other ‘issues,’ I’m very glad for medicines that—so far—have been able to keep my son (and let’s face it, the rest of us), healthy.

 

And if diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis become impossible to treat, the prognosis for the future health of us all will look very different, indeed.

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Photo by Stephen Cummings.

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167 comments

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8:07PM PDT on May 15, 2011

Not mentioned in this article is the fact that American livestock is fed TONS of antibiotics every year as a means of maintaining a sort of health under factory farming conditions. The end result, however, has been that every cow, pig, chicken, sheep, etc. in the United States is serving as a potential incubator for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. AND we're getting a dose of antibiotics every time we eat meat.

This practice has been stopped in other parts of the world. It's high time the United States did the same.

6:06AM PDT on May 14, 2011

I meant to say Binadrill. Something like that.

6:05AM PDT on May 14, 2011

I think their are good antibiotics out there. But too I think the government want let it be known since the government likes thinning the population down making us suffer. And again with all the chemicals in food and everything it's not a wonder that antibiotics don't work right. It's like a counter reaction of nutralizing it. Benidill, for sinus will nutralize anything to where any medication doesn't work.

1:30PM PDT on Sep 7, 2010

It's going to make it hard when you need to have an operation and then get an infection. I suppose any operation or badly infected cut could mean a death sentence sometime in the future?!!

11:30AM PDT on Aug 27, 2010

As a society, we sniff and we're off the doctor to get a presciption. I'm not surprised that these "bugs" have developed an immunity to the drugs we hurl at them on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, like just about every other problem, we did this to ourselves.

5:28AM PDT on Aug 23, 2010

thanks for post

4:16AM PDT on Aug 22, 2010

Hippocrate said let food be your medecine. I wonder when doctors started to forget about that one. While eating healthy, we are healthy, and have no such need as antibiotics.

9:56AM PDT on Aug 21, 2010

I am 62 years of age, have been physically active all my life, and I don't take antibiotics or flu shots. I don't get sick. I drink filtered water, use toothpaste clear of chemicals, eat organic whenever I can, and use natural remedies (fish oils, baking soda, vinegar, honey, coconut oil, and yes also silver hydrosol--10 parts per million). I do eat meat, but in balance. We take care of our dogs using the same philosophy. They look great. What is the problem? Ignorance of people who have been brain washed by the drug and American Agriculture industries. Go back to basics, get off your butts and put down the remote, and take charge of your lives. Excuses--I don't want to hear it.

9:35AM PDT on Aug 21, 2010

Good article, thanks so much..

10:39PM PDT on Aug 20, 2010

Great, informational article... I am so glad more + more people are waking up to natural medicine + seeing that we have been doused in antibiotics unnecessarily. I was given antibiotics often as a child for ear + sinus infections. I often wonder how much of it was really necessary, + think of how many others were overmedicated...

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