Tuesday, February 28, 2017

One return to the not-so-good old days


The World Health Organization has warned about the increasing number of "superbugs", bacteria resistant or immune to our current array of antibiotics.
The World Health Organization warned on Monday that a dozen antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” pose an enormous threat to human health, and urged hospital infection-control experts and pharmaceutical researchers to focus on fighting the most dangerous pathogens first.

The rate at which new strains of drug-resistant bacteria have emerged in recent years, prompted by overuse of antibiotics in humans and livestock, terrifies public health experts. Many consider the new strains just as dangerous as emerging viruses like Zika or Ebola.

“We are fast running out of treatment options,” said Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, the W.H.O. assistant director general who released the list. “If we leave it to market forces alone, the new antibiotics we most urgently need are not going to be developed in time.”

Britain’s chief medical officer, Sally C. Davies, has described drug-resistant pathogens as a national security threat equivalent to terrorism, and Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the recently retired director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called them “one of our most serious health threats.”

Last week, the European Food Safety Authority and European Center for Disease Prevention and Control estimated that superbugs kill 25,000 Europeans each year; the C.D.C. has estimated that they kill at least 23,000 Americans a year. (For comparison, about 38,000 Americans die in car crashes yearly.)

Most of these deaths occur among older patients in hospitals or nursing homes, or among transplant and cancer patients whose immune systems are suppressed. But some are among the young and healthy: A new study of 48 American pediatric hospitals found that drug-resistant infections in children, while still rare, had increased sevenfold in eight years, which the authors called “ominous.”

The W.H.O. report rated research on three pathogens as “critical priority.” They are carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, along with all members of the Enterobacteriaceae family resistant to both carbapenems and third-generation cephalosporins.

(The Enterobacteriaceae family includes familiar names like E. coli and salmonella, which live in human and animal guts and can cause food poisoning, and Yersinia pestis, which causes bubonic plague. Carbapenems and cephalosporins are each “families” of related antibiotics; both break down bacterial cell walls.)

The W.H.O. listed six pathogens as “high” priority. They include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA, which is responsible for about a third of “flesh-eating bacteria” infections in the United States, and antibiotic-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which causes gonorrhea.
Thanks to over prescription including conditions where it is ineffective, massive consumption by livestock to fatten them up and even unnecessary use in cleaning products like soap, too many bacteria have evolved to a state of effective resistance to previously effective cures. And given the level of ignorance in our Republican Congress, the US can expect the problem to worsen to the point where some Republican one day will suggest we all pray for god to cure us.

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