Peer Into the Post-Apocalyptic Future of Antimicrobial Resistance

from Wired

About 4 million years ago, a cave was forming in the Delaware Basin of what is now Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. From that time on, Lechuguilla Cave remained untouched by humans or animals until its discovery in 1986—an isolated, pristine primeval ecosystem.

When the bacteria found on the walls of Lechuguilla were analyzed, many of the microbes were determined not only to have resistance to natural antibiotics like penicillin, but also to synthetic antibiotics that did not exist on earth until the second half of the twentieth century. As infectious disease specialist Brad Spellberg put it in the New England Journal of Medicine, “These results underscore a critical reality: antibiotic resistance already exists, widely disseminated in nature, to drugs we have not yet invented.”

The origin story of antibiotics is well known, almost mythic, and antibiotics, along with the other basic public health measures, have had a dramatic impact on the quality and longevity of our modern life. When ordinary people called penicillin and sulfa drugs miraculous, they were not exaggerating. These discoveries ushered in the age of antibiotics, and medical science assumed a lifesaving capability previously unknown.

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8 Responses to Peer Into the Post-Apocalyptic Future of Antimicrobial Resistance

  1. Juan Landin March 30, 2017 at 8:14 pm #

    This article has caused me to really think about the ways in which we use antibiotics and how their growing resistance to them could very well be our downfall. We need to create a better system of distributing antibiotics in order to decrease the resistance of them from bacteria. We also need to wake up to the fact that this is a very real and dangerous issue that needs to be dealt with.

    Everyone, at some point in his or her life, will get sick. It does not have to be a life threatening disease; it could just be a sinus infection or strep throat. That person will then go to see a doctor or to an emergency room at a hospital. Once they see a doctor, they will explain their symptoms; he/she will evaluate them to confirm if he/she has the illness that the doctor believes he/she does not have. If appropriate, doctors will prescribe an antibiotic in order to help the person fight off the illness. Usually, this treatment works and the person is feeling better soon after. Lately however, the bacteria have been fighting back. You see, many people insist that they need medicine or treatments in order to get over an illness. Therefore, when they receive this treatment, it usually works and the illness is gone, for now. Some bacteria from that illness or some other bacteria that causes illness may still be in that person’s body. Since they did not die from the antibiotics, they have adapted to be resistant to it. This means, the next time the doctor prescribes that antibiotic for that illness you caught again, chances are that it will not work as well if at all. Doctors are at fault as well, many times when patients come in with symptoms of an infection but they cannot specifically identify it, they will prescribe them antibiotics anyway. This has led to the over prescription and over consumption of antibiotics. The use of antibiotics in our agriculture production has also negatively affected us. In order to keep the animals, that we use for consumption, alive and make them bigger, we use antibiotics. When those animals are then killed, packaged, and sold for consumption and we eat them, we are ingesting those antibiotics that make our bodies resistant to antibiotics, as overconsumption also does. This means that the next time we take those antibiotics or body will not see its effects because it has already gotten used to it and will require something stronger to fight the infection. What we need to do it to try harder to identify whether or not patients have viruses or antibiotics so that doctors do not unnecessarily prescribe them to patients. We also need to stop giving so much antibiotics to our animals that we eat and start to learn to rely on other sources of food.

    We need to address this issue now, while we still can. As it has been recorded, bacteria has and continues to become more resilient against various types of antibiotics. This is a problem because then we will not be able to treat many diseases that if untreated will kill you. This means, even the most common infections that effects millions, will be able to spread freely and eventually will kill many people. Especially in the poorer countries who can barely afford medicine as it is. The longer we put this off, the stronger the bacterial infections get and the harder it will be to find a solution to battle this fast evolution. A solution may be to change our eating habits. As we continue to try to squeeze as much meat out of our animals through pumping them with antibiotics, we must try and slowly decrease our meat intake and convert to a diet in which vegetables and greens are the main component. Another solution may be to require doctors to diagnose a patient with a specific illness and not to generalize it. This way, unnecessary antibiotics are not handed out. We should only allow antibiotics to be taken with a prescription; none should be sold over the counter either.

  2. George Tannous March 31, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

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  3. George Tannous March 31, 2017 at 3:26 pm #

    It is very scary to think that at any point in time we could witness a super-bug outbreak that would mimic what The Bubonic Plague did. The fact is we are a much more densely populated society and world now and this would make an outbreak even worse. If the super-bug is resistant to our modern drugs and antibiotics, we would be in deep trouble. If an outbreak were to occur today, it would spread much faster since we live in such densely populated areas. And not only that, it would kill much more people than what The Bubonic Plague did. Our population today is over 7.5 billion people, which would mean any type of incurable illness that spreads would mean the death of hundreds of millions. We do not take enough precautionary measures to prevent a long term spread of a super bug. We focus too much on the present of bugs and microbes instead of what they will evolve into in the future. I think it is an outbreak waiting to happen, especially with all of the factors we must consider today.

    • George Tannous March 31, 2017 at 3:29 pm #

      (Cont…)I remember around 2010 when the H1N1 spread was feared by the entire U.S. It seemed like everyone erupted into a panic and they were pushing everyone to get the H1N1 flu shot. Even more recently, the Zika virus made millions wake up to how easy it is for disease to spread. We truly were bailed out on both of these outbreaks, as I thought they would be sure to spread in the millions. Now just years later it seems like we have brushed these incidents under the mat and have stopped worrying about disease prevention and what bugs are sure to spread in the future. We live too much in the moment sometimes and this is one of the major things we should be focusing on preventing.

  4. Nicolas F Carchio March 31, 2017 at 4:11 pm #

    Everyone has heard of antibiotics. An antibiotic is a medicine that is used to destroy, limit or hinder the growth of a microorganism or disease. These bacteria and diseases plague our towns, cities and countries, and with the implementation of antibiotics, they have been able to control them and make people healthier, live longer and have better lives. There are so many types of antibiotics, from ones that cure common colds to those that attempt to prevent the flu to preventing other types of viruses. In general, antibiotics have been used to cure or prevent many types of diseases. They have been beneficial, yet in the modern era, they have been used far more often than they should have. This use has created problems that will lead to future issues as well as future lawsuits.

    Antibiotics have been fantastic for the health world and have helped many people find a cure for their illnesses; however, because of this large influx of antibiotics, and because of this, there have been serious problems for the future. Antibiotics have been used for many years, and have done much good. However, because antibiotics have been so widely used, their effectiveness has begun to wear off. Viruses and diseases are not evolving, due to the basic Darwinian Theory of evolution, and are becoming stronger and anti-antibiotics. This means that they will no longer be killed by the antibiotic, as the small minority of the disease that was not killed or eradicated by the antibiotics began to evolve. This disease thus learned how to survive in spite of these treatments, and now cannot be stopped by a simple antibiotic. Situations like this have been created through a person who simply gets an antibiotic prescribed for a mild cold or for a person who does not take the correct dosage of their antibiotic, and thus never fully kills off the disease. These situations have created the problematic environment of the future of disease preventing medicine. Now, if more and more viruses are resisting antibiotics, then these forms of medication are no longer effective. This means that even more people will contract these illnesses and suffer. The solution is far from simple. Many say that one way this issue can be solved is through not prescribing these antibiotics anymore, which would revert society back to a stage where it did not have the ability to prescribe medicine. Many argue, though, that by continuing to prescribe these antibiotics, then it will do the same thing. This is where the problem arises that many are still arguing over how to solve the rapid growing diseases of the world.

    In the field of law, this opens many doors to new regulations that may be placed on giving out prescriptions, certain drugs that are permitted and other malpractice issues. Lawyers may be needed to sue a doctor for committing malpractice against their patient by prescribing a drug that only will make the disease worse. Additionally, there will need to be new legislation regarding limiting prescriptions and finding new drugs and formulas that will be able to cure these diseases. The fact is simple: The world is changing, diseases are evolving, and the same antibiotics will simply not suffice.

  5. Ryan Appello March 31, 2017 at 5:57 pm #

    The thing that ends our species probably isn’t going to be aliens, natural disasters, or war. It’s going to be antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Think about it. A bacteria that is completely resistant to all forms of known antibiotics. How scary does that sound? If it doesn’t, it should. There have been small cases throughout history where a person becomes infected with this type of bacteria and they always end up dying. This is because we simply don’t have what it takes to treat it. Now imagine if a worldwide disease spread like this. People would have literally no way to protect themselves. This type of danger trounces all others. No war or alien species would decimate our planet like an unstoppable bacteria would.

    The potential for something like this to happen is becoming more and more of a reality. As we continue to treat the same types of bacteria with the same types of antibiotics, these organisms evolve and develop new strains. These strains evolve to be specifically immune to the medicines used to destroy them, which is terrifying to think about. Its simple evolution. A species will evolve to combat what is harming it. So, a generally well known and mild disease will eventually become immune to the medicine that was always used to treat it.

    If these types of bacteria do become more widespread and our antibiotics become more useless, surgeries would become nearly impossible. This is because the risk of infection would become too high for surgeries to be performed. Also, small injuries like a small cut or burn would mean potential death because of the high rate of infection. And there would nothing we could do about it. We depend on antibiotics for so much, that if they become obsolete and ineffective, we are essentially dead. The amount of infections would skyrocket and even the simplest injuries and surgeries could mean deadly infection for a person.

    The wide spread use of antibiotics in more and more situations is part of this problem. Today, antibiotics are used more and more in the food industry. What this means is that eventually, the bacteria being targeted by these antibiotics will become unaffected by them. The more we use antibiotics, the stronger the bacteria will become. The same goes for people. Doctors today seem to prescribe antibiotics for just about any aliment, which is incredibly dangerous. Also, if you do have an antibiotic, not finishing the proper dosage can also spell trouble. Doing this won’t kill the bacteria and will allow it to fester in your body again, with the potential of the antibiotics being ineffective towards it.

    A future with bacteria’s like this is certainly very scary. Think about getting a small cold and having nothing to treat it, as it gets worse and worse until there’s no hope at all. This is what could happen. In fact, this is what is happening today.

  6. Matt Radman March 31, 2017 at 8:55 pm #

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  7. Thomas Batelli April 1, 2017 at 11:42 am #

    I think this article brought up an interesting perspective many people seem to overlook in their everyday, busy lives. As many know, antibiotics are to be looked at as a natural resource; so, in comparison, think of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are natural resources that will be depleted over time. Essentially, the same thing holds true for antibiotics. Antibiotics were actually serendipity, and a lucky one at that. Unfortunately, we overlook and take antibiotics for granted. As time goes on, we as a society are losing our means of control when it comes to medicinal power. As technology continues to advance, there are still gaps and lack of advancement elsewhere. Although we may be evolved in certain aspects of society, we are still very juvenile in others. At the rate we are heading as a civilization, we are at the potential of revisiting the Dark Age in regard to our ability to fight off hazardous microbes. However, one might ask: With our strengths in medicine and with the antibiotics we do have, how is it possible that we could be at risk to microbes that have never bothered us before? There are many factors that can come into play when we’re talking about a global-wide catastrophe in regards to an epidemic. First of all, climate change plays a huge role in the obvious conditions of the environment, but also the ability microbes have to live and reproduce. All different bacterium need specific conditions to thrive in, and it is when they are thriving we stand a greater risk. As stated in the article, The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) has determined that within the next thirty-five years antimicrobial resistance could kill around three hundred million people worldwide, stunting global economic output by one hundred trillion dollars. There are so many important things, such as this, we as a society should be focusing on, but instead, these issues stay off the radar. The biggest issue is that people are only interested in what will bring in large profits, and with good research comes obvious payout. There is no reason for big pharmaceutical companies to invest into research when there is no economic incentive to do so. It’s sad, honestly. One would think: But what about the future? What about our children, grandchildren? Well, I guess it’s pretty obvious “we” as a culture have not nearly enough concern for that. Another issue is that as the population continues to grow, we are putting even more stress on the environment. It’s bad enough that we don’t care for the environment as we should and continue to exhibit forms of pollution and bad habits. My favorite part of this article was the perfect example of the American couple and their relationship with antibiotics and the truth of over-prescription. It is so easy for things to grow to be a “norm” and for a culture to be established, based off of inadequate, dated information. We have grown to be the culture that has a “pill for everything”- even if that one pill has negative side effects that then lead you to other medications. It’s an ongoing pharmaceutical scam and the fact that still, to this day, in the “age of knowledge”, so many people continue to feed into it.

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