Saturday, 22 March 2014

A post-antibiotic world?

Last night, as I was listening to my podcasts to help my transition to sleepland, I listened to the most depressing segment that not only didn't help me sleep, it kept me awake for several hours afterward. Naturally, I thought I should share it with everyone else.

I've been pretty good at avoiding the depressing podcasts (usually by ignoring all the ones that say 'war' in the title). Unfortunately, this one bypassed my radar by being on the CBC science show, Quirks and Quarks. Usually that show puts me to sleep right away by talking about the latest dinosaur discovery or the atmosphere of Venus' moon. However, last night the first part was dedicated to how antibiotics are soon going to be obsolete (listen here). Eek! I've read a few articles speculating about the end of antibiotics but had never heard/read anything about it that went into the actual details.

If you don't have time to listen to the discussion, they basically went over how we have overused antibiotics to the point where infections will soon be untreatable. The antibiotic research has not been able to keep up to the evolution of the viruses. This is partly because antibiotics are not a big money maker for the pharma companies so they don't invest as much into the research. It doesn't help that there have been no major new antibiotic strains found since the 1980's.

Basically we will soon be overrun with 'superbugs' that we can not treat because they have evolved past the point of our best research. There are already some of these already in existence (like C.Diff and MRSA, you probably heard about them because shows like Marketplace love to show that they are rampant in hotels) and more are going to develop as we continue to overuse antibiotics.

Before you start building your isolation chamber, there is some hope with new research. Outside of North America, there are some treatments being used like 'bacteriophage' that kills bacteria cells specifically and is unable to attack human cells. Unfortunately, the treatment is only done in Eastern Europe/Russia and wouldn't be close to passing our drug administrative tests. There is also research being done to develop antibiotics that would attack a specific virus which would leave good stuff in the body so the person would not be as immuno-compromised to other viruses. However, it is also years away from being approved by any drug board so there is nothing really in the interim.

They ended the segment by saying that not is all lost but people have to stop taking so many antibiotics and if there ends up being a new method of fighting infections, we have to not overuse it like we did with antibiotics.

My entire life, I was given antibiotics whenever I got sick to prevent the infection getting into my lungs. I was definitely part of the 'over antibiotic-ed crowd' and continue to take a crazy amount of antibiotics to try to keep my lungs to stay healthy enough until the transplant. It's terrifying to think of what would happen if antibiotics were no longer effective. No more transplants! No more hip replacements! Minor surgeries could become life threatening if infections could no longer be treated. Gah! Transplants are just starting to become commonplace and it's terrifying to think that it could all be destroyed by the fact that we are running out of effective antibiotics.

If you need me, I'll be hiding in my plastic bubble.


helen soucoup said... Hello Alley have you read about this unusual treatment?
Let me know if this link doesn't work.

Alley said...

I have heard about that! The article I read was for treating C.Diff, he seems to be extending the treatment to other diseases which would be interesting. I wonder how far away it is from being available to people.