When We Lose Antibiotics, Here’s What Else We’ll Lose Too

240px-Staphylococcus_aureus_01Maryn McKenna writes in Wired:

“Post-antibiotic era” is a phrase that gets tossed around a lot these days, most of the time without people stopping to consider what it might really mean. A year ago, I started wondering what life would be like, if we really didn’t have antibiotics any more. I was commissioned and edited by got research support from (editing to make clear that they didn’t give me a grant; they don’t do that) the fantastic Food and Environment Reporting Network, and today Medium publishes our 4,000-word report, “Imagining a Post-Antibiotics Future” — a view from the far side of the antibiotic miracle.

If we really lost antibiotics to advancing drug resistance — and trust me, we’re not far off — here’s what we would lose. Not just the ability to treat infectious disease; that’s obvious.

But also: The ability to treat cancer, and to transplant organs, because doing those successfully relies on suppressing the immune system and willingly making ourselves vulnerable to infection. Any treatment that relies on a permanent port into the bloodstream — for instance, kidney dialysis. Any major open-cavity surgery, on the heart, the lungs, the abdomen. Any surgery on a part of the body that already harbors a population of bacteria: the guts, the bladder, the genitals. Implantable devices: new hips, new knees, new heart valves. Cosmetic plastic surgery. Liposuction. Tattoos.

We’d lose the ability to treat people after traumatic accidents, as major as crashing your car and as minor as your kid falling out of a tree. We’d lose the safety of modern childbirth: Before the antibiotic era, 5 women died out of every 1,000 who gave birth. One out of every nine skin infections killed. Three out of every 10 people who got pneumonia died from it.

And we’d lose, as well, a good portion of our cheap modern food supply. Most of the meat we eat in the industrialized world is raised with the routine use of antibiotics, to fatten livestock and protect them from the conditions in which the animals are raised. Without the drugs that keep livestock healthy in concentrated agriculture, we’d lose the ability to raise them that way. Either animals would sicken, or farmers would have to change their raising practices, spending more money when their margins are thin. Either way, meat — and fish and seafood, also raised with abundant antibiotics in the fish farms of Asia — would become much more expensive.

And it wouldn’t be just meat. Antibiotics are used in plant agriculture as well, especially on fruit. Right now, a drug-resistant version of the bacterial disease fire blight is attacking American apple crops. There’s currently one drug left to fight it. And when major crops are lost, the local farm economy goes too.

Read more here.

6 Comments on "When We Lose Antibiotics, Here’s What Else We’ll Lose Too"

  1. hotandbothered | Nov 27, 2013 at 2:40 pm |

    Bringing on the Apocalypse one disease at a time.

  2. InfvoCuernos | Nov 27, 2013 at 4:23 pm |

    LOL I doubt we’ll lose tattoos. On the other hand, uncurable Bubonic Plague is a little troubling to contemplate.

  3. erte4wt4etrg | Nov 27, 2013 at 4:53 pm |

    Just good news all round these days

  4. Rhoid Rager | Nov 27, 2013 at 6:46 pm |

    So, I guess we’ll have to just fucking slow down, grow meat and vegetables in more sanitary, local conditions, stay healthier through diet and regular exercise, and (re)learn the medicinal qualities of plants. Oh, the horror!

  5. Eric_D_Read | Nov 27, 2013 at 7:40 pm |

    So basically humans will revert to a population size the planet can sustain.
    Silly monkeys. One way or another, nature wins in the end.

  6. rhetorics_killer | Nov 28, 2013 at 8:51 pm |

    The article fails to mention the obvious: a whole set of doctors, world-wide formatted to practice through antibiotic strategies, will be declared unfit for service.

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