It was about a year ago that I wrote the We’re All Buggered post, referring to antibiotic resistance and the potential threat of living in a post-antibiotic era. At that point, it wasn’t really news to anyone in the microbiological community: indeed, in that post I mentioned a seminar I attended ten years ago in Oxford, and even then it wasn’t really news to us.
But slowly, surely, these stories are beginning to infiltrate the media more and more often. And the reasons for this are fairly clear – scientists are becoming ever more concerned about the impending problems we are facing and moreover, a great number of the public are being affected by the issue, thus it’s becoming more relevant and therefore, more newsworthy.
Of course, if this problem wasn’t so insidious, we’d all be panicking about it already. If there were a 9/11 or a Hurricane Sandy – a single event – there would be far more awareness. (Not that awareness would really help anyway.)
But that’s not the case with the antibiotic resistance problem. It’s sneaking up on us and, for those of us in the know, it’s rather worrying*.
The latest “big name” to have come out with a stark warning is an associate director for the CDC, Dr. Arjun Srinivasan:
For a long time, there have been newspaper stories and covers of magazines that talked about “The end of antibiotics, question mark?” Well, now I would say you can change the title to “The end of antibiotics, period.”
We’re here. We’re in the post-antibiotic era. There are patients for whom we have no therapy, and we are literally in a position of having a patient in a bed who has an infection, something that five years ago even we could have treated, but now we can’t.
Quote via kottke.org (take tinfoil hat along for some of the comments). Here’s the full programme on PBS.org, with the suitably dramatic title: Hunting The Nightmare Bacteria. (Hint: it’s not difficult – just go to any major hospital and they’ll come find you.)
Jason Kottke suggests that drug-resistant infectious diseases should be added to the list of “disasters with no clear low point”, and he’s probably correct. Remember that Dame Sally Davies (the Chief Medical Officer in the UK) thought that:
“…the threat from infections that are resistant to frontline antibiotics was so serious that the issue should be added to the government’s national risk register of civil emergencies.”
and that puts it alongside threats like “explosive volcanic eruptions” and “catastrophic terrorist acts”.
As previously, I don’t expect this post to do anything to make a difference to the situation. There’s actually nothing we can do to prevent this now. I just thought that you ought to know.
Have a great weekend.
* The latter part of this sentence contains a fair amount of understatement.