In a time when modern medicine can create miracles, there’s now a grim reminder nature reigns supreme.
Drugs are getting weaker and germs are getting stronger. It’s the use of antibiotics, or rather, the overuse of them that’s spawned a new kind of killer—superbugs, bacteria that’s outsmarting medicine.
“Every time we use an antibiotic, we pressure those bacteria to become resistant and its survival of the fittest,” said Dr. Fred Lopez, an infectious disease expert at LSU Medical School in New Orleans. He says antibiotic resistance is a real problem, tearing through every hospital in America.
According to the Center for Disease Control, two million people are infected with resistant infections a year, resulting in 20,000 deaths. Resistance is largely blamed on mistreatment.
Ever wonder why your doctor says to finish the entire antibiotic pack? When it comes to bacteria, only the strong survive. So, it’s important to clear the infection completely. A non-lethal dose allows bacteria time to grow resistant. Lopez says overuse has changed the face of the so-called miracle drug. For decades, doctors have been prescribing drugs like Azithromycin to mistakenly treat viruses, which are unaffected by antibiotics.
For years, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA, has been the main fear for doctors. But, Lopez says new bugs are wreaking havoc and are tough, if not impossible to treat. “One is gonorrhea. In fact, it’s resistant gonorrhea. The second is C. Difficile which infects the intestines and occurs when people take antibiotics,” said Lopez.
Lopez says what’s more alarming is the lack of incentives for pharmaceutical companies, halting new antibiotic development. Developing those drugs takes both time and money—billions of dollars. Clinical trials often last at least a decade.
Development has slowed so much, infections like the common cold or strep throat, once fatal in the pre-antibiotic era, could kill again. There are alternative therapies in the works like fecal transplants to treat aggressive C. Difficile infections, but microbes may win the race.
So, have we reached a tipping point?
“It’s something we’re going to hear more and more about,” said Lopez. “This problem is not going away.”