In the old days, if you got a cut or a wound and it became infected with bacteria, you had to cut it out. If you got a bloodstream infection, you died.
Then came along the era of antibiotics, beginning with penicillin.
But now we have a major problem: Antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Superbugs.
Doctors and scientists have known about the problem for some time.
For example, in a 2009 article for the New England Journal of Medicine, two doctors at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston described two scary examples with very different outcomes.
In March 1942, they wrote, a 33-year-old woman lay dying in a Connecticut hospital as her doctors could not eradicate her bloodstream infection. Then they administered repeated doses of penicillin and her bloodstream was cleared. She made a full recovery and lived to age 90.
Fast-forward to the present. A 70-year-old man in San Francisco in 2008 also had a bloodstream infection. The doctors wrote: “Despite the administration, for many days, of the best antibiotics available,” physicians “were unable to sterilize the patient’s blood, and he died still bacteremic.”
Their conclusion: We have “arrived at a point as frightening as the pre-antibiotic era.”
However, it was the Sept. 16 release of a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the flurry of news stories since then – including a PBS Frontline program that aired last week – that finally brought the issue to the general public. Antibiotic resistance is urgent, requiring a public response.
The CDC statistics are alarming: “Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.”
Why is this happening? We have four major problems:bill
Passage of the Strategies to Address Antimicrobial Resistance Act (HR 2285) would help.
If we do not want a return to the days when people routinely died or lost limbs to bacterial infection, we have to make antibiotic resistance a public priority.