The Post-Antibiotic Era: Emerging Deadly Superbugs
“With more than 40 diseases in existence today that were unknown a generation ago, and about 1,100 epidemic events verified by the WHO [World Health Organization] in the past five years, it’s nearly impossible to keep up on the emergence of infectious disease events as they break…”
—Larry Madoff, MD, International Society for Infectious Diseases
“Our communities aren’t safe from these kinds of organisms, which creep in and go from person to person. Many of these threats are more important, more real, and more possible than the threats of bioterrorism. We are trying to alert both the scientific and the lay community, and especially our own government, to this threat to the homeland.”
—Stuart B. Levy, MD, Director, Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance Tufts University School of Medicine
“Over the decades the bacteria that antibiotics control have developed resistance to these drugs. Today, virtually all important, bacterial infections in the United States and throughout the world are becoming resistant.”
—Centers for Disease Control (CDC) [Emphasis ours]
“ The global increase in resistance to antimicrobial drugs, including the emergence of bacterial strains that are resistant to all available antibacterial agents, has created a public health problem of potentially crisis proportions.”
—American Medical Association (AMA) [Emphasis ours]
The discovery of antibiotics and their introduction into medical practice was hailed as one of the most important events in the struggle against human infectious diseases. The “Antibiotic Era” began in earnest in the early 1940s, Penicillin being the first antibiotic introduced into clinical practice. Discovery after discovery of effective anti-bacterial drugs then followed and optimism ran high in anticipation of the soon conquest of infectious disease. So high, in fact, that in 1969, William H. Stewart, then Surgeon General of the United States, testified in Congress that, “the time has come to close the book on infectious diseases”. Since that premature, overconfident assertion there has been a powerful resurgence of infectious diseases, the single most threatening component of which has been the appearance of disease-causing bacteria which have become resistant to antibiotics. Scientists began noticing that each time they developed a new class of antibiotics, it wasn’t long before pathogens developed resistance to them.
In 1964, physicians began using new drugs called Cephalosporins, which were effective against many infections, including pneumonia; but E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and a genus of bacteria called Enterobacter soon developed a way to fend them off. Out of pharmaceutical labs then came the Carbapenem and Fluoroquinolone drugs and, within a matter of just a few years, they began to lose their effectiveness against Acinetobacter species and other microbes (see “The Frightening Emergence of NDM-1, KPC”, below). The first penicillin-resistant Pneumococcus was discovered two years before the above-quoted “Mission Accomplished” statement by the U.S. Surgeon General. It was found in Papua, New Guinea.