Cancer treatments and even the most basic surgeries may soon become impossible due to the rising rate of infections that are no longer treatable with antibiotics, the CDC cautions. Antibiotics are the key to life-saving healthcare in the U.S., and because we have abused and misused them, they are failing us at an alarming rate.
We were warned, repeatedly.
Just four years after pharmaceutical companies began mass-producing the antibiotic penicillin in 1943, bacteria was already evolving to become resistant to it. We were warned by Sir Alexander Fleming, the accidental discoverer of the antibiotic penicillin, when he told the New York Times in 1945 that responsible use of antibiotics was critical.
“The greatest possibility of evil in self-medication is the use of too-small doses, so that instead of clearing up infection the microbes are educated to resist penicillin.”
We were issued a dire warning in 2012 by the World Health Organization’s director-general, Dr. Margaret Chan, in an urgent keynote address in Copenhagen, Denmark. Chan said that modern medicine, as we know it, was already coming to an end.
“A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”
A year later, Chan’s warnings were realized by the CDC as the Center’s Dr. Arjun Srinivasan boldly stated, “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.'”
In April 2014, the WHO warned us again in a devastating official report about antimicrobial resistance.
“A post-antibiotic era—in which common infections and minor injuries can kill—far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the 21st century.”
At that time, Dr. Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for health security at the WHO, wrote in a statement, “Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.”
Last year, the Guardian warned that antibiotic resistant bacteria was already a more virulent killer than AIDS. At that time, daunting news that the antimicrobial compound in antibacterial soap was also turning up useless. ScienceNewsreported that the University of Michigan’s microbiologist Blaise Boles warned that microbes in people’s noses already managed to adapt to triclosan, “allowing them to remain steadfast in the nose.”
Antibacterial Soap Containing Triclosan No Better At Killing Germs Than Regular Soap, Study Finds. http://t.co/H0nwrBWoEB
— Leonard Richardson (@KingdomMedicine) October 6, 2015
Even before that, we were warned by the American Journal of Infectious Control that hand sanitizer is part of why we are losing the perceived war against bacteria. Alcohol based products, the authors warned, actually increase biofilm production and the pathogen potential of staph bacteria.
Yes, You Can Overuse Hand Sanitizer – http://t.co/HMKENxCrbk
— In A Zone (@_inazone) October 5, 2015
Also last year, President Obama issued an executive order establishing a new inter-agency task force to nationally combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The executive order dictated that the task force assigned to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria issues would be co-chaired by the secretaries of Health & Human Services, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Agriculture.
On Saturday, California became the first state to ban the use of antibiotics in farm animals http://t.co/ap8LuHHXh1 pic.twitter.com/OVGUQwZ6TO
— Bloomberg Business (@business) October 13, 2015
“We are clearly in a fight against… bacteria where no permanent treatment is possible,” Dr. John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and assistant to the President, said at that time, according to CNN.
— Dr. Bruce Gellin (@DrBGellin) September 29, 2015
Now, researchers have even more bad news in the antibiotic versus microbe front. Our antibiotics are failing us so much, due to our own overuse and misuse, that patients undergoing even simple surgeries or chemotherapy for cancer are facing infections that even hospital treatments can not combat or prevent. This increase in antibiotic resistance means that medical procedures have become riskier and life-giving medical procedures typically requiring prophylactic antibiotics will likely increase the rate of death, amputation, and sickness.
— The Atlantic (@TheAtlantic) October 16, 2015
Even four years ago, over 150 thousand surgical site infections sprung from inpatient surgery alone, and surgical site infections are associated with a striking three percent mortality rate.
Dr. Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, and colleagues reviewed studies from 1968 and 2011, examining antibiotic prophylaxis in preventing infections and infection-related deaths following common surgeries and chemotherapy, Medical News Today reported. Additionally, the team estimated the proportion of infections caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria.
In cesarean sections, 39 percent of surgical site infections are caused by antibiotic resistant organisms. In transrectal prostate biopsies, that rate jumps from 50 to 90 percent. Following blood cancer chemotherapy, over one-quarter of infections are currently resistant to antibiotics. If the efficacy of antibiotic prophylaxis were to drop by a mere one-tenth, 40,000 more Americans may die after surgery or after chemotherapy. Should antibiotic prophylaxis efficacy drop by 70 percent, a plausible outcome of our current use of antibiotics, 280,000 more Americans will likely die after surgery or after chemotherapy.
Dr. Laxminarayan, like his peers before him, now warns that these life-saving medical treatments will soon be impossible if antibiotic resistance is not promptly handled.
“A lot of common surgical procedures and cancer chemotherapy will be virtually impossible if antibiotic resistance is not tackled urgently. Not only is there an immediate need for up-to-date information to establish how antibiotic prophylaxis recommendations should be modified in the face of increasing resistance, but we also need new strategies for the prevention and control of antibiotic resistance at national and international levels.”
We have been warned, repeatedly, that these days would come. What would your life or the lives of your loved ones be like if surgical procedures, UTIs, cancer treatments, ear infections, skin infections, and even sore throats were not treatable with antibiotics like the CDC warns?
[Photo Credit: James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]