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The 'Golden Age' Of Antibiotics Is Over

Jesus foretold that there would be many pestilences in the days leading up to His return (Luke 21:11) and indeed we see that happening: AIDS, Ebola, Zika, SARS, Influenza (of various kinds), Yellow Fever, Malaria, and on and on.  The 20th Century saw the advent of antibiotics and their victory over a variety of widespread diseases, but the L.A. Times reports on how their use is coming to a final end and a variety of diseases once largely eradicated like Tuberculosis and Gonorrhea are making a massive comeback.  From the article:

The golden age of antibiotics appears to be coming to an end, its demise hastened by a combination of medical, social and economic factors. For decades, these drugs made it easy for doctors to treat infections and injuries. Now, common ailments are regaining the power to kill.

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In 1928, British bacteriologist Alexander Fleming discovered that an errant penicillin mold growing in one of his petri dishes had the power to kill staphylococcus, a type of bacteria that causes pneumonia, skin infections and food poisoning. It took scientists, industrialists and the pressures of a world war to convert the mold into a mass-produced medicine, which was ready in time for troops to pack on D-Day.

More than 100 antibiotic compounds have been introduced since. But almost as soon as they were given to patients, scientists began finding evidence that disease-causing bacteria were developing resistance to these new wonder drugs.

Bacteria meet, mate, compete and evolve inside living bodies. When an antibiotic is added to the mix, only the strongest survive.

Humans have accelerated this natural process by indiscriminately prescribing antibiotics and by routinely feeding the drugs to livestock, scientists say. Multiply the number of humans and animals taking these drugs, and you multiply the opportunities for antibiotic-resistant strains to emerge.

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Until very recently, few made the connection between antibiotic use in individual cases and the emergence of antibiotic resistance, said Dr. Susan Bleasdale, an infection-control expert at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Patients with earaches, sinus pressure and sore throats demanded antibiotics, and physicians tended to oblige.

The results have been deadly. Each year, more than 2 million people in the U.S. are infected with a bacterium that has become resistant to one or more antibiotic medication designed to kill it, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 23,000 people die as a direct result of antibiotic-resistant infections, and many more die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection, the agency says.

As medicines such as tetracycline, erythromycin and vancomycin lost much of their effectiveness, colistin continued to overwhelm trouble-making bacteria such as Salmonella, Klebsiella and E. coli.

Colistin is toxic to the human kidney, and doctors largely stopped using it in the 1970s when safer medications became available. But now that so many antibiotics have lost their ability to vanquish E. coli and other bacterial invaders, colistin has become the only hope for some desperate patients.

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Yet officials at the World Health Organization warn that gonorrhea “may soon become untreatable” because of growing resistance to the antibiotic ceftriaxone, a member of the cephalosporin class. The WHO also notes that extensively-drug-resistant tuberculosis is now circulating in 100 countries, and that worldwide resistance to carbapenem antibiotics has weakened physicians’ last line of attack against life-threatening intestinal enterobacteriaceae infections.

“It’s a slow catastrophe,” said Army Col. Emil Lesho, director of the Defense Department’s Multidrug-resistant Organism Repository and Surveillance Network.

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The problem goes beyond treating infections. As bacterial resistance grows, Lesho said, “we’re all at risk of losing our access” to medical miracles we’ve come to take for granted: elective surgeries, joint replacements, organ transplants, cancer chemotherapies. These treatments give bacteria an opportunity to hitch a ride on a catheter or an unwashed hand and invade an already vulnerable patient.

The struggle to sustain the effectiveness of antibiotics is a never-ending arms race. If humankind were regularly finding new anti-microbial agents and turning them into medicines, there might be less cause for worry.

Researchers haven’t identified a new class of antibiotic medication since 1987. As a result, while bacteria have continuously evolved new ways to thwart antibiotics, the medicines have not gained new mechanisms to fight back.

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“It’s not apocalyptic until it is,” said Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and former associate commissioner of the FDA. “Shame on us if we wait till bodies are in the street.”


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