I knew the situation with antibiotics was bad but I didn’t know how bad. It’s really bad. The part I didn’t realize (which was stupid of me, because it’s obvious once it’s pointed out) is how heavily most advances in medical treatment, i.e. surgeries, depend on antibiotics. We’re screwed.
Frontline did a big show on it last week which I haven’t seen yet. It has an interview with Dr. Arjun Srinivasan of the CDC on its website.
They really are miracle drugs, and not only have they saved the lives of millions and millions of people … but antibiotics have opened up new frontiers in medicine that would be impossible without them.
For example, organ transplantation. One of the major causes of death in patients who would have an organ transplant would be an infection. Without antibiotics, we wouldn’t be able to treat any of those infections.
And stem cell?
Stem cell transplants, bone marrow transplantation, cancer chemotherapy would be largely impossible … because all of these are therapies that weaken people’s immune system, which of course makes them then vulnerable to infections. We don’t have to worry about that so much because we have antibiotics that can treat those infections.
A lot of the therapies that we use now for different types of arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis — you see ads for that now on television — again, these are therapies that weaken immune systems. They make people vulnerable for infections, but because we have antibiotics, that’s not something that we have to particularly worry about as much as if we didn’t have the antibiotics.
But now we don’t, so much, so we do have to worry. And it’s getting worse not better.
We are quickly running out of therapies to treat some of these infections that previously had been eminently treatable. There are bacteria that we encounter, particularly in health-care settings, that are resistant to nearly all — or, in some cases, all — the antibiotics that we have available to us, and we are thus entering an era that people have talked about for a long time.
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.”
We’re here. We’re in the post-antibiotic era. There are patients for whom we have no therapy, and we are literally in a position of having a patient in a bed who has an infection, something that five years ago even we could have treated, but now we can’t. …
And that is just scary as hell.
I talked to a friend about it the other day, and she told me she’d recently had major spinal surgery and the hospital told her to go home the next day. She was aghast, and said, “What? Surely I need to recuperate more first?” And they told her every minute she stayed was more risk of untreatable infection.