I’ve been thinking a lot about bacteria lately.
With a stepdaughter in the hospital with a limb threatening Staph infection, and the latest E.Coli outbreak from scallions in Taco Bell, its become abundantly clear that we are under attack.
The scary part is, we may be losing the war, and its our own undoing. People tend to look at large threats with greater urgency than the smallest most insidious ones. Nuclear war, terrorism, and global warming tend to be the biggest worry points for many people.
But I think we are looking at an even bigger threat, and possibly a looming world population crash due to bacteria becomng increasingly resistant to antibiotics. My stepdaughter’s Staph infection is a perfect example. She’s been in Enloe now for over a week, getting antibiotics in an IV, the most powerful stuff they have, and it’s only slowly making a dent in the infection.
The problem is, bacteria can evolve new defense strategies at lightning speed. Since antibiotics were first introduced with Penicillin during World War 2, bacteria has lived millions of lifetimes and has evolved strategies to resist it, whereas some humans haven’t completed one lifetime, such as our surviving WW2 vets.
Today, the battlefield killer, Staphylococcus. aureus, has become resistant to many commonly used antibiotics. In the UK, only 2% of all S. aureus isolates are sensitive to penicillin with a similar picture in the rest of the world.
And we are making the problem worse. In addition to overprescribing antibiotics for things like the common cold (a viral infection which antibiotics don’t affect), and with people often not taking a full course of antibiotics (they feel better then stop) we are also training a new army of bugs with everyday occurances, like handwashing. For every million bacteria we kill, a few survive, and they go on to reproduce and carry on the resistance.
While medical antibiotics are regulated, antibiotics in hand soap are not, and they are ending up in our rivers, streams, and water supply. Here is an except from a University of Cincinnati study that says the Ohio river is now becoming rife with antibiotic resistant bacteria.
The microbiology done…found that bacteria in the river were resistant to three common antibiotics: ampicillin, streptomycin and tetracycline. Streptomycin resistance was most common. “The frequency of resistance was startling to us.”
We are training a big army of bugs for a war that we may not win. They can outwit us, out produce us, and out survive us. Bacteria have been around far longer than we have and can survive, even flourish in the most hostile environments earth has to offer.