SOME people describe Darwinian evolution as “only a theory”. Try explaining that to the friends and relatives of the 700,000 people killed each year by drug-resistant infections. Resistance to antimicrobial medicines, such as antibiotics and antimalarials, is caused by the survival of the fittest. Unfortunately, fit microbes mean unfit human beings. Drug-resistance is not only one of the clearest examples of evolution in action, it is also the one with the biggest immediate human cost. And it is getting worse.
Stretching today’s trends out to 2050, the 700,000 deaths could reach 10m.
Cynics might be forgiven for thinking that they have heard this argument before. People have fretted about resistance since antibiotics began being used in large quantities during the late 1940s. Their conclusion that bacterial diseases might again become epidemic as a result has proved false and will remain so. That is because the decline of common 19th-century infections such as tuberculosis and cholera was thanks to better housing, drains and clean water, not penicillin.
The real danger is more subtle—but grave nonetheless. The fact that improvements in public health like those the Victorians pioneered should eventually drive down tuberculosis rates in India hardly makes up for the loss of 60,000 newborn children every year to drug-resistant infections. Wherever there is endemic infection, there is resistance to its treatment. This is true in the rich world, too. Drug-resistant versions of organisms such as Staphylococcus aureus are increasing the risk of post-operative infection. The day could come when elective surgery is unwise and organ transplants, which stop rejection with immunosuppression, are downright dangerous. Imagine that everyone in the tropics was vulnerable once again to malaria and that every pin prick could lead to a fatal infection. It is old diseases, not new ones, that need to be feared.
The spread of resistance is an example of the tragedy of the commons; the costs of what is being lost are not seen by the people who are responsible. You keep cattle? Add antibiotics to their feed to enhance growth. The cost in terms of increased resistance is borne by society as a whole. You have a sore throat? Take antibiotics in case it is bacterial. If it is viral, and hence untreatable by drugs, no harm done—except to someone else who later catches a resistant infection.
Learn more: When the drugs don’t work
The Latest on: Antibiotic resistance
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The Latest on: Antibiotic resistance
- New antibiotics are desperately needed: Machine learning could help on February 20, 2019 at 3:34 pm
As the threat of antibiotic resistance looms, microbiologists aren’t the only ones thinking up new solutions. James Zou, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical data science at Stanford, has applied ma... […]
- Cocktail of common antibiotics can fight resistant E. coli on February 20, 2019 at 12:48 pm
Scientists have discovered that a combination of two common antibiotics is able to eliminate multi-drug resistant E. coli causing urinary tract infections. This combination treatment could become an e... […]
- Combination of common antibiotics can eliminate multi-drug resistant E. coli on February 20, 2019 at 10:28 am
Scientists from DTU have discovered that a combination of two common antibiotics can eliminate multi-drug resistant E. coli causing urinary tract infections; this combination treatment could become an ... […]
- Creating a ‘new world’ to bring about next-gen antibiotics on February 20, 2019 at 7:54 am
Antibiotic resistance has been named one of the biggest threats to global health by the World Health Organization (WHO), with even ‘last-line’ antibiotics, those used as a last defence against resista... […]
- Antibiotic Resistant Gene Blocked by Novel Combination Therapy on February 20, 2019 at 6:45 am
Scientists in Canada say they have found a method to block the VCC-1 enzyme, which disables the VCC-1 antimicrobial-resistance gene. VCC-1, a ß-lactamase gene, has been discovered in benign close rela... […]
- Investigators figure out how to block new antibiotic resistance gene on February 20, 2019 at 12:21 am
A new antimicrobial-resistance gene, VCC-1, a ß-lactamase gene, has been discovered in benign close relatives of virulent Vibrio cholerae, which causes cholera. Now, a team of Canadian ... […]
- Antibiotic resistance spreading faster than thought: Study on February 19, 2019 at 6:15 pm
Berlin, Feb 19 (PTI) Antibiotic resistance in bacteria spreads much faster and with more varied mechanisms than previously thought, say scientists who suggest exercising caution in the use of the drug... […]
- QIAGEN partners with Ares Genetics to advance global fight against antibiotic-resistant pathogens on February 18, 2019 at 1:05 pm
QIAGEN N.V. QGEN, +1.18% (frankfurt prime standard:QIA) today announced a broad agreement with Ares Genetics, a subsidiary of Curetis N.V. CURE, +4.47% to develop innovative bioinformatics and assay s... […]
- Physicists pinpoint a simple mechanism that makes bacteria resistant to antibiotics on February 18, 2019 at 11:12 am
Physicists have for the first time identified a simple mechanism used by potentially deadly bacteria to fend off antibiotics, a discovery which is providing new insights into how germs adapt and behav... […]
- Kansas Researcher Helps Find Antibiotic-Resistant Bug on February 14, 2019 at 10:14 pm
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — An antibiotic-resistant "superbug" that originated in India has been found in a remote part of the world by a group of researchers that includes a University of Kansas geology pr... […]
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