The threat of Super Bugs

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By 2050, one person will die every three seconds from antibiotic resistant bacteria, according to a UK government report that just came out recently. That’s 100 million people a year, all dying from bacteria that would usually be completely treatable with antibiotics. Yet it is because of those antibiotics, and the way they are prescribed that bacteria of the future may be so deadly.

As bacteria is exposed to antibiotic medicine, it slowly dies within its host’s body. However, if the full course of antibiotics is not completed, some of the bacteria is left behind, and it is now more resistant to that form of antibiotic. This creates “Super Bugs,” as they are commonly called, which over time grow more and more difficult to treat, and as they move from host to host, usually within hospitals, they mutate further, creating new permanent strains.

This is why antibiotics which were once totally effective in killing bacteria like Staphylococcus, or a Staph infection as you may have heard it described, are now in serious danger of becoming obsolete. And once the current generation of antibiotics is no longer effective, research companies must scramble to replace them. And in the interim, people die. Lots of people.

It is estimated that currently at least 23,000 people die every year in the U.S. from bacterias which are no longer treatable with antibiotics, and 700,000 people a year die around the world from the same cause. And the problem is only growing larger due to the way doctors are using antibiotics. They are overprescribed and incompletely utilized, providing a fertile breeding ground for new strains of resistant bacteria.

So what can be done to fix the problem? Quite a bit, as it turns out. Much of the problem is a simple matter of human behavior. The UK report advises a number of measures that could do a great deal to stem the tide of resistant infections. First, it urges a massive global awareness campaign to advise doctors on how and when to prescribe antibiotics. It also urges hospitals to take sanitation procedures more seriously. Failure to properly clean hospital surfaces is a major cause of the spread of these strains of bacteria. In fact, every time you are taken to the hospital you have a one in twenty-five chance of contracting a disease from improper sanitation procedures, proving the old adage that you are as likely to die of something you caught in the hospital as of the issue that brought you there.

The report also suggests that we need to develop rapid diagnostic tests that can determine when and how antibiotics should be used. According to the reports’ authors, this is long overdue. The current method used by doctors to test which strain of bacteria their patient has is fundamentally the same as a test developed in the 19th century.

Much of the rest of the problem with developing new antibiotics is related to money. Researchers are not often drawn to study the issue of resistant bacteria due to the fact that is often considered a field that is less prestigious and less lucrative than a field such as cancer research. The report suggests that financial incentives need to be created to encourage pharmaceutical companies to develop antibiotics that would be effective in fighting new generations of Super Bugs.

Ultimately, the report makes it very clear that unless major steps are taken to address the issue now, the future may see millions of needless deaths from these Frankenstein’s Monster-like bacteria that we have created with reckless use of antibiotics.

Wyatt is a writer and your friend. You can follow him on Twitter @WyattRedd.

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