Many people know that doctors who prescribe and patients who seek antibiotics to treat illnesses for which those drugs are not right threaten our ability to combat infections. Those are the people who know that the term “superbug” is not about a heroic critter. It’s about bacteria that, thanks to the overuse of antibiotics, have developed a resistance to the agents that used to kill them.
In “The Rise of Superbugs: Dangerous infections that are resistant to antibiotics are spreading and growing stronger, with dire consequences,” Consumer Reports traces the habits of medical practitioners and demanding patients that not only have empowered pathogens, but have left us much less able to fight off new infections because we’ve also weakened the good bacteria that live in every body.
There’s the story of the teacher who took an antibiotic to prevent a dental infection and ended up with a fatal intestinal infection because her good gut bacteria also got wiped out.
There’s the story of the 12-year-old who picked up a bug playing baseball and, after six surgeries, still walks with a limp because the bacteria that caused his infection had evolved through repeated exposure to the antibiotic he was given so that the drug’s defenses were insufficient to eradicate the germs.
As the story recounts, “Though antibiotics have saved millions of lives since penicillin was first prescribed almost 75 years ago, it’s now clear that unrestrained use of the drugs also has unexpected and dangerous consequences, sickening at least 2.25 million Americans each year and killing 37,000.”
But what’s really scary, according to report, is that “things could get much worse, and fast.”
Two new threats loom large. CRE (carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae) kills almost half of hospital patients whose bloodstreams are infected. Shigella, a highly contagious bacteria, is resistant to several common antibiotics, raising fears of an outbreak in the U.S. from travelers who bring it home from abroad.
To understand the snowballing effect of poor provider practices, unreasonable patient demands and the toxic role of the pharmaceutical industry, read the whole story here.