We’re rapidly approaching the point where we’ll no longer be able to treat many of our most deadly infections. PBS has a detailed, fascinating, and alarming interview with Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, an associate director at the CDC, about rising resistance to antibiotics among Western populations. Dr. Srinivasan points out that antibiotics have been a key part of treating infections that arise after many different medical procedures, from cancer treatment to organ transplants. Without antibiotics, patients are vastly more likely to die from infections in the wake of those procedures. And we’re increasing without antibiotics:
The more you use an antibiotic, the more you expose a bacteria to an antibiotic, the greater the likelihood that resistance to that antibiotic is going to develop. So the more antibiotics we put into people, we put into the environment, we put into livestock, the more opportunities we create for these bacteria to become resistant. …We also know that we’ve greatly overused antibiotics and in overusing these antibiotics, we have set ourselves up for the scenario that we find ourselves in now, where we’re running out of antibiotics [...]
We’re here. We’re in the post-antibiotic era. There are patients for whom we have no therapy, and we are literally in a position of having a patient in a bed who has an infection, something that five years ago even we could have treated, but now we can’t.
Dr. Srinivasan lays out some solutions that could help reduce the scope of this problem. Some are small and individual, like doctors and nurses washing their hands after treating an infection and being more careful when prescribing antibiotics. Others are more macro level. For instance, Dr. Srinivasan recommends that we allow very sick patients who have built up resistance to all the standard antibiotics to use antibiotics that may have worse side effects than normal. Here as elsewhere we need to update our regulatory structure to make it more responsive to changing conditions.
And of course, he argues we need much more research into and awareness of this problem. Read the whole thing.
[Image of Bacteria from Shutterstock]