Tom Frieden of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention said this week, “It is the end of the road for antibiotics unless we act urgently.” Penicillin has been available since the 1940’s and saved the lives of many. Notice that he used the word urgently.
This week, in the end of May of 2016, a Pennsylvania woman has been diagnosed with a strain of bacteria that is resistant to all antibiotics. The fear is that if other strains of bacteria evolve to include the same resistance, antibiotics will no longer be effective in fighting infection. It is then possible that a previously treatable urinary infection could be life threatening.
The woman had gone to a military clinic and was treated for a urinary tract infection found to be the bacteria, E. Coli. This is a common bacteria founding the gut and urinary tract. This bug was carrying the gene for resistance to the drug colistin. This is an old antibiotic used for resistant infections. We could be on the verge of a major health problem. This is not the only bug that is learning how to avoid the effects of antibiotics.
It turns out that we have helped to develop this problem. 80% of all antibiotics consumed are given to livestock so the animal husbandry industry can get more animals to market. Livestock are typically given many different antibiotics so they do not die before they reach market. We then eat the animals with these antibiotics in them and then their presence may create superbugs like MRSA, Yersinia, and Staph that are now found in store-bought meat. Normal cooking can kill some—but not all—of these bugs. We eat the animals which have many different antibiotics and perhaps bacteria in them and these products invade our body and gut flora. Our normal bacteria is disrupted by the antibiotics and bad bacteria are activated. Next our immune system is revved up to help and sends out lots of inflammatory cells.
Then there is also the over-use of antibiotics for viral infections. Our gut flora including E. Coli can easily be compromised. The trillion bugs in the microbiomes of our bodies can be disrupted as good bacteria are killed and the bad bacteria gain the advantage. If we no longer can treat the bad bugs and our immune systems are too weak, what can we do?
We can go to a plant based diet and demand legislation that halts the wide-spread use of antibiotics in the animal husbandry industry. We can try to avoid the use of taking and prescribing unnecessary antibiotics. Unfortunately, legislators are reluctant to create new laws and physicians’ habits change slowly. However, we might not have much time as we have no miracle drug at present. Superbugs need superhumans to act now. We might not be able to change our legislators or doctors minds, but we can control what we eat and the medications we take.