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By Laurence O’Bryan

Is our optimistic faith in science about to be shattered? Are we heading back to the dark ages in medicine?

Before the early 20th century, treatments for infections were based primarily on folklore. Louis PasteurAlexander Fleming and other scientists worked hard and suffered to produce the treatments that we all now take for granted.

Chief among these are the antibiotics that most of us take as a first defense against all sorts of common infections. Before the era of antibiotics, before 1941 that is, in some countries as many as 20% of women died after giving birth because there was almost no way to treat many infections.

The list of diseases we are all in danger from in the next five years, as the era of effective antibiotics ends includes:

  • dental infections
  • blood, kidney and urinary infections
  • TB, pneumonia and other chest infections
  • Gonorrhea and other STDs (Chlamydia is the leading cause of infectious blindness in the 3rd world)
  • Surgical wound infections – most surgery would not be possible without antibiotics
  • Chemo and transplants will not be possible
  • Typhoid feverdiphtherialeprosyBubonic plague – which kills 2 out 3 infected individuals without antibiotic treatment.

Why is this happening?

Bacteria of all the above classes are becoming immune to antibiotics as they evolve. In some cases even the strongest antibiotics are ineffective in treating simple infections. This evolution was bound to happen. Our willingness to take antibiotics as an easy cure-all and our unwillingness to finish a course of treatment have all contributed to the evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

It looks very much like the future is going to end up like the past. There are not enough antibiotic development programs worldwide, profits are low in this area, and despite our knowledge of all this governments are still not intervening to make it easier to invest in groundbreaking science. Even if they did start now we are likely to face a period where your doctor might shake his head when you come in with an infection and say, “We can’t treat this infection anymore.”

So what can we all do?

1. Stop taking antibiotics unless there is a very good reason. Otherwise the above situation will come even quicker.

2. Wash our hands before meals & when we come home, like your mother used to teach you.

3. Encourage others to do the same.

This article was published at Laurence O’Bryan  on December 29, 2011

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