Humans want a pill to solve all their medical problems, but with the increase of antibiotic resistant genes in bacteria, those pills are beginning to become less effective.
Early in September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report that said in the last few years, antibiotic-resistant bacteria have gained prevalence in the United States.
The pathogens have been evolving for years, causing infections that cannot be treated by drugs, such as certain strains of Streptococcus, or strep throat, a common infection among children and teens.
The CDC report suggests four initiatives to prevent the spread of such bacteria:
“Preventing infections from occurring and preventing resistant bacteria from spreading, tracking resistant bacteria, improving the use of antibiotics, and promoting the development of new antibiotics and new diagnostic tests for resistant bacteria.”
According to the report, more than 2 million people contract such infections that cannot be treated by antibiotics, and at least 23,000 deaths occur each year due to the bugs’ antibiotic resistance. But it’s only natural that bacteria evolves to be antibiotic resistant according to the cliche adage “survival of the fittest” – the bacteria that don’t survive are the ones that are dying.
As subsequent generations of bacteria either die from the drugs or don’t die because of their evolved genetics, engineers and biologists scramble to find a new antibiotic. Eventually, the only type of bacteria that infects humans will be one resistant to all strains of antibiotics.
Mark Silby, a professor at UMass Dartmouth and a researcher of antibiotic resistance believes that this is a difficult field to predict, as bacteria are always mutating and multiplying. One can never know how a population of bacteria will change.
“It’s hard to know if you can go backwards,” he mused. Can we decrease the usage of antibiotics? “It depends on the nature of the bacteria themselves.”
The reduction of antibiotic usage could increase the population of bacteria sensitive to antibiotics because oftentimes, resistant strains are more vulnerable in other ways. It then becomes a matter of the “survival of the fittest” adage.
“The reality is,” he said, “we can’t stop using antibiotics… We’re closer to antibiotic-free days than people realize.”
This may bring us back to Dark Ages status, when one epidemic spreads like wildfire and wipes out half the population, and we won’t have the technology to stop it.
“We live in an age of complacency,” Silby said. “Medicine will save us. Doctors give prescriptions to make peoples feel better… We have to learn to curb our enthusiasm. We have the benefit of hindsight, knowing the problems before we make them. We should pay attention to that.”