Humans aren’t the only life forms which have evolved. Bacteria have had the benefit of hundreds of millions of years of evolution before humans were even a blip on the planet. These organisms to be sure are occasionally our friends, when they hang out in our colon and help us digest foods. Yet most of the time pathogenic bacteria, which are everywhere, can wreak havoc on humans. Since their lifespan is often measured in hours rather than decades, they evolve quite rapidly. And thanks to our overuse of antibiotics in medicines and livestock these dudes have developed antibiotic resistance of massive proportions.
Yes, these superbugs are often resistant to almost any antibiotic and even rarely to all available antibiotics. MRSA, a very common bacteria which causes abscesses, pneumonia and sepsis causes more deaths (19,000 yearly in the US) than HIV and AIDS combined. Another bug, termed VDMI, emerged recently in India and is resistant to all antibiotics. Other bacteria such as VRE also exist and are increasing rapidly.
Since we overtreat with antibiotics, resistant strains of bacteria multiply rapidly. New antibiotic development by pharmaceutical companies has slowed down, so right now our options for treating these superbugs are limited and with time are even decreasing. If nothing is done soon, having routine surgeries such as hip replacement might expose patients to life threatening, resistant infections.
What can be done? Doctors need to prescribe antibiotics only when needed and not for colds, bronchitis and other viral infections. Pharmacy companies need to promote reasonable antibiotic use rather than simply trying to market as much use as possible. All medical institutions, especially hospitals, should step of surveillance of local antibiotic resistance so that appropriate antibiotics can be prescribed. Research into new antibiotics needs to be promoted both by the government and by the pharmaceutical industry. Livestock companies need to cooperate with researchers to reduce the amount of antibiotics given to animals. We should not flush our unused antibiotics down the toilet nor throw them away where they will eventually end up in the groundwater. Rather, these pills should be taken to local pharmacies which often have environmentally safe ways of disposing of extra medications.