excepts by Dave Pell
The introduction of antibiotics dealt a serious blow to the bacteria that attacks our bodies. But it wasn’t a deadly one. And different forms of bacteria have spent the last few decades evolving. Some of these “superbugs” are now totally resistant to antibiotics, and they are basically teaching other bacteria how to resist them as well.
Bacteria have been training at this for a long, long time. I think when a lot of people took antibiotics in the ’50s and ’60s, there was a lot of talk then about “miracle drugs” and “wonder drugs” … Had we basically pushed back those evolutionary forces? Had we essentially found a way to avoid infectious disease? Well, what we’re seeing is this evolutionary process in bacteria. It’s relentless, and what happened here was [that] bacteria learned to basically teach each other to swap these enzymes and help each other learn how to beat back our best antibiotics; our last-resort antibiotics didn’t work…
70-80 percent of all antibiotics produced — certainly more than half, at a minimum — are in fact used in farm animals to get them to market quicker and bigger. As it also turns out, this continual, low-level use is a perfect way to breed resistant strains, which can then find their way into humans.
Here’s a great overview of the problem from Fresh Air’s Terry Gross and journalist David Hoffman: Antibiotics Can’t Keep Up With Nightmare Superbugs. “In the period before World War II … people that got infections, they had to cut it out. They had to cut off limbs, cut off toes, because there weren’t antibiotics. And oftentimes, when people talk about the fact that we might have to go back to a pre-antibiotic age, that’s what they mean — that a simple scrape on the playground could be fatal.”