We’ve all heard warnings that overuse of antibiotics would breed drug-resistant superbugs, but the day of reckoning seems to be approaching faster than anyone anticipated, and science is at a loss for what to do. The pharmaceutical industry is proving to be little help, having abandoned the field of medicines that cure things for the golden revenue flow of drugs that individuals consume chronically until death (e.g. antidepressants and cholesterol-controlling medicine). Are we headed for a future of human helplessness against bacterial plagues, as in the Middle Ages? Via News Daily:
Welcome to a world where the drugs don’t work. For decades scientists have managed to develop new medicines to stay at least one step ahead of an ever-mutating enemy.
Now, though, we may be running out of road. MRSA alone is estimated to kill around 19,000 people every year in the United States — far more than HIV and AIDS — and a similar number in Europe. Other drug-resistant superbugs are spreading. Cases of often fatal “extensively drug resistant” tuberculosis have mushroomed over the past few years. A new wave of “super superbugs” with a mutation called NDM 1, which first emerged in India, has now turned up all over the world, from Britain to New Zealand.
NDM 1 is what’s growing on the plates that Livermore holds in his gloved hands. “You can’t win against evolution,” says the scientist, who spends his days tracking the emergence of superbugs in a national reference laboratory at Britain’s Health Protection Agency. “All you can seek to do is to stay a jump ahead.”
The fact that the latest superbug — NDM 1 stands for New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase, an enzyme that gives bacteria multidrug resistance — first emerged in India comes as little surprise to many microbiologists. Use of antibiotics is rampant and unregulated in a country with appalling sanitation, high rates of diarrheal disease and overcrowding — ideal conditions for resistance to develop. A week-long course of antibiotics can cost as little as 30 or 40 U.S. cents from one of the thousands of chemist shops that all too often dispense poor advice along with their non-prescription drugs.
Cases of bacteria producing NDM 1 have now been found and documented in two dozen countries from North America to Europe to New Zealand to China to Kenya.
Livermore’s work shows only two or three remaining antibiotics can kill these bugs — one is toxic, so doctors use it only in extreme cases; the second can’t be used to treat urinary tract infections, one of the most common infections caused by E.coli; and the third is not available in many countries and is anyway susceptible to easily developed resistance.