Super Bugs and antibiotics.

Posted By on January 16, 2017

There’s a whole range of apocalypse movies out there, each one trying to paint a more grisly, dramatic picture than the last. They tout meteor collisions, exploding suns, super storms and diseases that reduce people to brain eating zombies.

If you are into that world ending apocalyptic stuff, a small article in The Telegraph on the 13th of January probably went unnoticed. For the some, it should scare the stuffing out of us.

A 70 year old woman passed away in a Nevada hospital recently – (nothing particularly newsworthy there). She died from a bacterial infection – (not too uncommon either). The bacteria was resistant to every known antibiotic, so much so that the CDC ( USA’s Center for Disease Control ) deemed the lady’s condition incurable. (now we’re getting into the Hollywood stuff).

This is not the first incurable case reported by the CDC either. The CDC reported a previous case of another bacteria that was also un-treatable but the bacteria themselves were not very infectious, so the risk of contagion was deemed very low. This latest case is a more transmittable bacteria.

But it gets worse – there’s a casual mention of a protein, NDM (New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase) that when present in bacteria makes them resistant to most antibiotics.

Now hold that though a minute. We were terrified when Ebola struck in Zaire. It was scary because it was a very grisly ending from a disease that was incurable. It was caused by a virus – a single organism we could aim all our disease fighting skills at. As a result, today it is serious but not a death sentence.

However, now we have a protein, not a single organism, that could appear in any or many different organisms, making them resistant to our entire range of antibiotics. We’re not fighting an organism now, this is a protein that could appear in any organism with the right mutation.

When we think of bacteria and similar micro organisms, we forget that they are not all bad guys. We have a host of good bacteria in our intestines, in yogurt, in cheese and on everything we touch and eat. Any one of these could mutate to produce the NDM protein.

If antibiotics no longer work, we have to come up with some other method of attack. Vaccination is an option but only works when people are vaccinated prior to contracting the infection. Meantime we have to use antibiotics more sparingly and wisely, to delay the inevitable until we can come up with another solution.

Today all we can do is isolate the victims, to reduce spreading the contagion and make their last hours as comfortable as possible.

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