Bacteria – Pay Attention, They Are Coming Back

Salmonella artist impression

Worried about the weather? Notme. I worry about other things while I am out walking alone.

Here, have some bacteria to worry about instead.

In 2013 Antibiotic-resistant MRSA infections killed more Americans than emphysema, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, and homicide combined.

It may have cost as much as $45bn in the USA alone.

Within 10 years, these bacteria are now predicted to be resistant to all currently known drugs. That means an effective end to all surgery. A tiny splinter will create a lethal risk of infection. A cat scratch becomes life threatening. Childbirth may go back to killing large numbers of mothers and children.

We also lose:

The ability to treat cancer, and to transplant organs, because doing those successfully relies on suppressing the immune system and willingly making ourselves vulnerable to infection. Any treatment that relies on a permanent port into the bloodstream — for instance, kidney dialysis.

Any major open-cavity surgery, on the heart, the lungs, the abdomen. Any surgery on a part of the body that already harbors a population of bacteria: the guts, the bladder, the genitals. Implantable devices: new hips, new knees, new heart valves. Cosmetic plastic surgery. Liposuction. Tattoos.

All gone from society, or the domain of the insanely risky.

The problem is not “in the future”, it is right now, and it is not a problem just in the USA, but a global issue:

Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria impact
Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria impact

Travelling abroad will become very dangerous – people will live in terror of someone coughing in the arrivals lounge as TB will spread like wildfire.

And food prices will rocket as intensive agriculture becomes practically impossible.

All of this, gone, because society failed to listen to the warning of Alexander Fleming in 1945, when he warned about the non-clinical use of antibiotics and risk of resistance.

“The time may come when penicillin can be bought by anyone in the shops. Then there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non‐lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant. Here is a hypothetical illustration. Mr. X. has a sore throat. He buys some penicillin and gives himself, not enough to kill the streptococci but enough to educate them to resist penicillin. He then infects his wife. Mrs. X gets pneumonia and is treated with penicillin. As the streptococci are now resistant to penicillin the treatment fails. Mrs. X dies. Who is primarily responsible for Mrs. X’s death?”

What we have created are highly resistant strains of some of the nastiest and commonest bacteria:

Much of that rise in resistance is due to farming and industrial use of antibiotics, where, frankly, they are used as a profit tool where good husbandry, better hygiene and lower stocking densities would work as well.

It is so well known that the BBC have written about it. Little appears to have changed though.

What can you do? Immediately:

And all of this has been known and talked about for a very long time, while regulators and Governments sat on their hands, lobbied by the existing drugs companies for “easy sales” and farmers for “cheap food”.

Can we hope for a new drug to save us? Probably not as we have NO NEW CLASSES OF ANTIBIOTICS in the known pipeline:

Antibiotic Void
Antibiotic Void

Let’s make sure we do not leave the Age of the Antibiotic Miracle too soon, eh?

Having spend 6 days in hospital last year at the mercy of a complex bacterial infection that resisted not one, not two, but 4 antibiotics and only succumbed to the 5th, I am a poster child for modern antibiotics.

And I quite like walking in the woods, and don’t want grazed knees to become a mortal threat.