Losing The War Against Drug-Resistant Superbugs

NEWS-US-ANTIBIOTICSWe’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.

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18 Responses to Losing The War Against Drug-Resistant Superbugs

  1. DeepCough April 6, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    Well, this probably would not have happened if physicians and biochemists in the United States better understood the thoroughly scientific concept of evolution, instead of being taught the debate of intelligent design and evolution, which is infinitely more stultifying than enlightening.

  2. DeepCough April 6, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    Well, this probably would not have happened if physicians and biochemists in the United States better understood the thoroughly scientific concept of evolution, instead of being taught the debate of intelligent design and evolution, which is infinitely more stultifying than enlightening.

  3. sluggo21 April 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    The quote from Livermore is exactly right. Because of evolution, we’ll never eradicate viruses and bacteria. This is why we need to keep funding scientific research, so we always remain one step ahead

    • Chaorder Gradient April 6, 2011 at 10:18 pm #

      using antibiotics goes against natural evolution. It pushes the burden of evolution too far onto on the viruses and bacteria to become resilient to all of these things. The other side of the coin is that we are stagnating in our own immune system evolution. Of course talking about humans evolving in this case is taboo because it requires the ones with the weaker immune system to die naturally from the diseases, but its the natural order of things.

      Now we’ve set up this tower of babel of sorts where the bugs are too strong, and we are all too weak. It’s okay though! Science has vaccines! another temporary patch to our problems that might not (probably wont) even work.

      • De Carabas April 7, 2011 at 1:25 am #

        Viral and bacterial evolution occur in hours, days, weeks and years. Human evolution occurs on the order of hundreds of thousands of years. While you are correct that antibiotics are applying strong selection pressure for resistance to antibiotics(or antiviral drugs/vaccines in the case of virii,) your assertions about human evolution show you have a very poor understanding of the subject.

        A few things to note.
        1. What you do in your life and what is done to you has absolutely no effect on the evolutionary path of humans. The only thing that does is whether you reproduce. That is it. Selection pressures are are pit against that sole criteria.

        2. You are biologically no different that the people running around 250,000 years ago talking about that great new thing, the campfire. This is a big one people really fail to grasp. You are not smarter, faster, healthier, or in any way better/worse than people were then.

        3. That being said humans are subject to two new types of evolution beyond Darwinian. Neurological evolution that happens because we have rather advanced mammalian brains. Your brain structure actually is different than people even a few hundred years ago(we think.) And also cultural evolution. The accumulation of knowledge and values down through human history. This last one is why we are the dominant species on the planet right now.

        • Chaorder Gradient April 7, 2011 at 9:46 am #

          I understand that it is solely dependent on reproduction, but if we get to the point where we are relying on antibiotics for people to get to reproductive age, that will be a problem. Other evolutionary pressures work through this same mechanisms but through the concept of mass die off. The few who have slightly better situations will always breed more, and pass on their genes. Antibiotics however takes the burden of survival (from disease in this case) off the human’s immune system. This allows for humans that happen to have a weaker immune system survive long enough to reproduce.

          I would argue we aren’t Very different from ancient man… 250000 years isnt a terribly long time on evolutionary scales; however I’m sure there are subtle differences. Different disasters, many disease based, but some others, have had influence in one way or another on the human race over the ages.

          Saying neurological and cultural evolution occurs without darwinian evolution is sort of nonsense. You cannot say it occurs through social evolution, because “social” evolution and darwinian evolution work hand in hand. The top of the social chain will be breeding more, hence: darwinian evolution. Cultural evolution is a powerful medium for selection of gene transfer as it stands now.

          Also saying that viral evolution only works in short periods of time is kinda silly. Yes they can change in shorter periods of time, much faster than us. But that does not deny their ability to evolve over decades centuries, or even millenia. By the same token, most evolution in humans and animals occurs over a long period of time, but dramatic changes in relatively short amount of time (hundreds rather than millions of years), can cause very quick evolutionary pressure. For example, if we have some sort of crazy nuclear disasters all around the world, or REAL pandemics (not this swine flu crap) in the next 200 years, humans in 2000 years may be slightly different than we are right now.

  4. sluggo21 April 6, 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    The quote from Livermore is exactly right. Because of evolution, we’ll never eradicate viruses and bacteria. This is why we need to keep funding scientific research, so we always remain one step ahead

  5. Chaorder Gradient April 7, 2011 at 2:18 am #

    using antibiotics goes against natural evolution. It pushes the burden of evolution too far onto on the viruses and bacteria to become resilient to all of these things. The other side of the coin is that we are stagnating in our own immune system evolution. Of course talking about humans evolving in this case is taboo because it requires the ones with the weaker immune system to die naturally from the diseases, but its the natural order of things.

    Now we’ve set up this tower of babel of sorts where the bugs are too strong, and we are all too weak. It’s okay though! Science has vaccines! another temporary patch to our problems that might not (probably wont) even work.

  6. Chaorder Gradient April 7, 2011 at 2:18 am #

    using antibiotics goes against natural evolution. It pushes the burden of evolution too far onto on the viruses and bacteria to become resilient to all of these things. The other side of the coin is that we are stagnating in our own immune system evolution. Of course talking about humans evolving in this case is taboo because it requires the ones with the weaker immune system to die naturally from the diseases, but its the natural order of things.

    Now we’ve set up this tower of babel of sorts where the bugs are too strong, and we are all too weak. It’s okay though! Science has vaccines! another temporary patch to our problems that might not (probably wont) even work.

  7. dddjjj April 6, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    i stopped taking every drug, invested time and energy into my diet, and do mind and body work

    seems to work better than anything i was ever prescribed. there are some great ways to make use of home remedies when you understand how certain foods interact with your health.

    • PossiblyMaybeProbablyNot April 7, 2011 at 11:02 am #

      Are you implying that your diet could ward off such a sickness or that it could treat such an illness should it ever occur? I am dubious of either idea, but am just curious as to where you are coming from, exactly, with this comment…

      • Chaorder Gradient April 7, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he’s probably coming from the idea that certain deficiencies (ones very common in a standard american diet) can cause many of the most common non-bacterial/viral diseases around. The drugs try to treat symptoms rather than causes, while diet changes are the exact opposite.

  8. dddjjj April 7, 2011 at 3:15 am #

    i stopped taking every drug, invested time and energy into my diet, and do mind and body work

    seems to work better than anything i was ever prescribed. there are some great ways to make use of home remedies when you understand how certain foods interact with your health.

  9. De Carabas April 7, 2011 at 5:25 am #

    Viral and bacterial evolution occur in hours, days, weeks and years. Human evolution occurs on the order of hundreds of thousands of years. While you are correct that antibiotics are applying strong selection pressure for resistance to antibiotics(or antiviral drugs/vaccines in the case of virii,) your assertions about human evolution show you have a very poor understanding of the subject.

    A few things to note.
    1. What you do in your life and what is done to you has absolutely no effect on the evolutionary path of humans. The only thing that does is whether you reproduce. That is it. Selection pressures are are pit against that sole criteria.

    2. You are biologically no different that the people running around 250,000 years ago talking about that great new thing, the campfire. This is a big one people really fail to grasp. You are not smarter, faster, healthier, or in any way better/worse than people were then.

    3. That being said humans are subject to two new types of evolution beyond Darwinian. Neurological evolution that happens because we have rather advanced mammalian brains. Your brain structure actually is different than people even a few hundred years ago(we think.) And also cultural evolution. The accumulation of knowledge and values down through human history. This last one is why we are the dominant species on the planet right now.

  10. Chaorder Gradient April 7, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    I understand that it is solely dependent on reproduction, but if we get to the point where we are relying on antibiotics for people to get to reproductive age, that will be a problem. Other evolutionary pressures work through this same mechanisms but through the concept of mass die off. The few who have slightly better situations will always breed more, and pass on their genes. Antibiotics however takes the burden of survival (from disease in this case) off the human’s immune system. This allows for humans that happen to have a weaker immune system survive long enough to reproduce.

    I would argue we aren’t Very different from ancient man… 250000 years isnt a terribly long time on evolutionary scales; however I’m sure there are subtle differences. Different disasters, many disease based, but some others, have had influence in one way or another on the human race over the ages.

    Saying neurological and cultural evolution occurs without darwinian evolution is sort of nonsense. You cannot say it occurs through social evolution, because “social” evolution and darwinian evolution work hand in hand. The top of the social chain will be breeding more, hence: darwinian evolution. Cultural evolution is a powerful medium for selection of gene transfer as it stands now.

  11. Chaorder Gradient April 7, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    I understand that it is solely dependent on reproduction, but if we get to the point where we are relying on antibiotics for people to get to reproductive age, that will be a problem. Other evolutionary pressures work through this same mechanisms but through the concept of mass die off. The few who have slightly better situations will always breed more, and pass on their genes. Antibiotics however takes the burden of survival (from disease in this case) off the human’s immune system. This allows for humans that happen to have a weaker immune system survive long enough to reproduce.

    I would argue we aren’t Very different from ancient man… 250000 years isnt a terribly long time on evolutionary scales; however I’m sure there are subtle differences. Different disasters, many disease based, but some others, have had influence in one way or another on the human race over the ages.

    Saying neurological and cultural evolution occurs without darwinian evolution is sort of nonsense. You cannot say it occurs through social evolution, because “social” evolution and darwinian evolution work hand in hand. The top of the social chain will be breeding more, hence: darwinian evolution. Cultural evolution is a powerful medium for selection of gene transfer as it stands now.

  12. PossiblyMaybeProbablyNot April 7, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    Are you implying that your diet could ward off such a sickness or that it could treat such an illness should it ever occur? I am dubious of either idea, but am just curious as to where you are coming from, exactly, with this comment…

  13. Chaorder Gradient April 7, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he’s probably coming from the idea that certain deficiencies (ones very common in a standard american diet) can cause many of the most common non-bacterial/viral diseases around. The drugs try to treat symptoms rather than causes, while diet changes are the exact opposite.

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