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Could Antibiotic-Resistant Diseases Become the End of the World as We Know It?

In the past couple of months, descriptive words such as ‘apocalyptic’ and ‘catastrophic’ have been used to refer to recent ‘superbugs’ gaining steam within healthcare facilities. According to the most senior medical adviser in Britain, the rise in drug-resistant diseases could trigger a national emergency comparable to a devastating terrorist attack, pandemic flu, or major flooding of coastal regions. And, people across the world are not prepared for the aftermath that such drug-resistant bacteria can leave behind.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control shared more details with reporters at a press conference that focused on the bacteria at the center of the controversy ”“ carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (or CRE, for short). This bacteria lives inside human bodies already, but can cause infections if they venture out beyond the gut. The bacteria are also resistant to a particular class of antibiotic, and it’s definitely attracting the attention of health professionals from all over the world.

American healthcare institutions in 42 states have encountered at least one case of CRE. Over the past 10 years, the occurrence of this resistance in the overall family of bacteria has risen at least four-fold. In the first half of 2012, the CDC reports that 4.6 percent of hospitals and 17.8 percent of long-term care facilities in the U.S. have already diagnosed this bug.

We’re no strangers to the emergence of superbugs. For instance, the bacterium called Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (better known as MRSA) is a dangerous threat for patients in the hospital. It is responsible for causing a handful of infections in humans that is difficult to treat. Diabetics, the imprisoned, nursing home residents, people with weakened immune systems, and patients with open wounds face the greatest risk of suffering an MRSA-related infection ”“ more than the typical individual. Every year in the United States, MRSA kills about 19,000 people, which is actually a higher number of deaths associated with the dreaded HIV and AIDS.

In the past few decades, only a few new antibiotics have been developed and released on the market. Not good news since superbugs are moving at a faster rate. In recent years, doctors are seeing tuberculosis that is completely resistant to drugs. Cases involving a mutation called NDM 1 (viewed as a ‘super superbug’) first appeared in India, but are now surfacing all over the world, including Britain and New Zealand. Superbug strains of gonorrhea have also across popped up across the globe.

Bacteria and other germs that are resistant to antibiotics can poke holes in the effectiveness of today’s medicine and medical procedures. For examples, patients having the simplest of surgeries can actually die from an infection that was once treatable by antibiotics. The threat is very real and scary ”“ sending today’s science and medical industry reeling backwards. In the future, people could opt to skip routine operations, such as knee replacements and organ transplants, for fear of developing a deadly infection.

Currently, there is a call for increased drug discoveries and research so that emerging, mutating infections become more avoidable and treatable in the future.