Apocalypse imminent as bacteria evolve beyond antibiotics
A new beginning in the antibiotics industry is due, but not without more death in the meantime.
Game over, the bacteria have already won. It is now just a matter of time, perhaps years, until antibiotics as we know them are eliminated from use. Rapidly evolving bacteria have defeated the slow-paced innovations of pharmaceutical companies, becoming resistant to virtually all efforts to treating them.
Bacteria are an example of Darwin's theory at work. Each generation of bacteria produces offspring which are slightly varied. Some of those variations can make a bacteria resistant to antibiotics to which it is exposed. Since it is resistant, it survives the dose and produces more offspring, most of which carry the resistance. Before long, every bacteria has the resistance, the non-resistant ones having become entirely extinct.
This is evolution in action and it is the reason why pharmaceutical companies must constantly develop newer, more powerful antibiotics to fight bacteria. Unfortunately, the process for developing a new antibiotic and bringing it to market can take years. Bacteria can evolve within a matter of days.
Alexander Fleming, who developed penicillin and won a Nobel Prize for his work talked about antibiotic resistance. "It is not difficult to make microbes resistant," he wrote, "to penicillin in the laboratory by exposing them to concentrations not sufficient to kill them. There is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant."
Fleming's nightmare has finally come true. After decades of overuse of antibiotics, using them improperly, over-prescription, and under utilization in some cases, we now have resistant bacteria.
In our moder, densely-packed world, the right disease, or combination of diseases, could bring apocalyptic-scale devestation to entire cities. This isn't science fiction as much as it threatens to be science future.
Farm animals are also a chief source of resistant bacteria. Ranchers vaccinate their herds, and since the 1950s they have been giving low doses of antibiotics to help increase the sizes of their animals. These low doses kept bacteria in check, but did not eliminate infections entirely. Animals grew larger, and bacteria became resistant.
Currently over 80 percent of all antibiotic use is in farm animals, not people.
Now, antibiotic resistant bacteria can even be found in the wild. Even sharks have been found with antibiotic-resistant infections.
Earlier this year, a patient in New Zealand died from a bacterial infection known as "KPC-Oxa 48." That bacteria is resistant to every known type of antibiotic. There is nothing either on the shelf or in the lab that can kill it.
The numbers of such bacteria are growing. So are the deaths. According to the CDC, at least 23,000 people die annually in the U.S. from resistant bacteria. That's over sixty people per day.
Now here's the bad news.
Financially, antibiotics are losing bets for pharmaceutical companies. On average, a new antibiotic costs $1 billion to develop and bring to market. Antibiotics lose about $50 million on average. So who wants to pay a billion to lose fifty million?
Thanks to this curious fact, the result of byzantine health regulations and bureaucracy, there are no antibiotics coming online anytime soon to combat the current crop of emerging bacteria.
We're speeding our demise by merrily vaccinating animals and humans at whim.
In time, resistant bacteria will become major killers and more people will be willing to pay more money for antibiotics that work. Until then, the bacteria will continue to win, and to spread.
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© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
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