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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The End of Antibiotics

By Douglas V. Gibbs
AuthorSpeakerInstructorRadio Host

The age of medicine has reached an obstacle, and the golden age of antibiotics may be coming to an end.

A few months ago a friend of mine entered the hospital inflicted with a drug-resistant form of pneumonia.  The illness nearly killed him.  He lost 40 pounds as a result of the illness, and lost months of his life during which he was too weak to perform his job.  After weeks of hospitalization, he then also battled a partially collapsed lung.  The ordeal began in March, and he is only now beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel regarding his health.  The medicine did little good for him, and the amount he needed was massive. . . luckily, his large size enabled his body to handle the large amount of medicine.

The new biological threat is the emergence of drug-resistant strains of illnesses.  The genetics of these new strains have altered to become more resistant to today's drugs.  The genetic change makes these germs impervious to the drugs we have been using to fight these illnesses, and we have no new drugs to fight them with.  The genetic change that is creating the resistance to drugs exists on a tiny mobile loop of DNA that can be readily snapped off and attached to other bacteria, enabling the resistance to literally jump from bacteria to bacteria.

In the microscopic world, mutation and change happens rapidly, and often.  After generations of medications have fought against these diseases, they have evolved to become something beyond what we may be able to fight against.

In other words, the golden age of antibiotics may be coming to an end.  Our technology is working against us, and the end is being hastened by a combination of medical, social and economic factors. For decades, these drugs made it easy for doctors to treat infections and injuries. Now, common ailments are regaining the power to kill.

We may not be sent all the way back to what it was during the dark ages, since we are getting better at protecting against getting infected in the first place, but we are seeing more drug-resistant infections emerge, and as a result, people will die.

Since the introduction of penicillin in 1928, more than 100 antibiotic compounds have been introduced.  However, disease-causing bacteria have been developing resistance against these drugs.

Meanwhile, we have pumped our livestock full of these drugs, multiplying the opportunities for antibiotic-resistant strains to emerge.

Now, we are seeing more than 2 million people in the U.S. infected with a bacterium that has become resistant to one or more antibiotic medications designed to kill it each year.  At least 23,000 people die as a direct result of antibiotic-resistant infections, and many more die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.

The problem is relatively unknown by the public.  A recent survey found that only 30% of Americans are aware, or believe, that antibiotic resistance is a significant problem for public health.

The World Health Organization warns that gonorrhea, for example, “may soon become untreatable.”  WHO also claims that extensively-drug-resistant tuberculosis is now circulating in 100 countries.

The problem also goes further than infections we may get in our daily lives. Elective surgeries, joint replacements, organ transplants, and cancer chemotherapies are treatments that give bacteria an opportunity to hitch a ride on a catheter or an unwashed hand and invade an already vulnerable patient - and the threat of infection now creates obstacles that may hinder the advancement of these medical miracles.

Meanwhile, as bacteria have continuously evolved new ways to thwart antibiotics, researchers haven’t identified a new class of antibiotic medication since 1987.

The gene making these bacteria drug-resistant is spreading to more germs rapidly.  While it is not a catastrophe yet, it may be soon.

The next great epidemic that kills millions may be on the horizon sooner than we may fear.

For some who may see a biblical connection, this all may be of no surprise.

-- Political Pistachio Conservative News and Commentary

1 comment:

Call Me Mom said...

The strains have not altered. (It is unlikely that they mutated either because I don't think their have been any beneficial mutations recorded ever)
What has happened is that the individual members of the bacterial strains that were not susceptible to antibiotics have gradually become the majority of the bacteria out there. Why? Because the individual bacteria that were susceptible have been gradually eliminated by the antibiotics.

That is an alteration, but not an evolution per se. The basic bacterium have not changed, the susceptible individuals have been killed off. I would call it an adaptation instead. I know this may seem like nit picking, but it is important to be precise when discussing such things. These are not "superbugs" they are the survivors of the antibiotic age. It may seem to make them "super" , but actually, it is likely that this has resulted in a net loss of genetic information in the various species.