Mark is just like you and me, going about his day, completely unaware of the microscopic world waging a war against him and the rest of the human race. These tiny organisms have the power to take us to an age where minor operations result in death, and childbirth is a gamble. In order to survive in this new world…
No, hold on, sorry, I’m calling time out.
What is it Mark? I am not used to these interruptions, but I’ll let it pass.
Yeah, I’m not entirely sure you got the memo um…
PSA Patty at your service.
Ok Patty, you’re behind the times. Yes people used to die of bacterial infections, but hen we discovered antibiotics. Now everybody lives longer, everyone’s happy.
Oh Mark, I never tire of basking in the knowledge of just how wrong you humans can be.
…What is that supposed to mean?…Patty…
Sorry, I drifted off there. The Cinema Trailer Voiceover Guy and I thought tequila slammers at the Vic would be an amazing idea, then we moved onto Sambuca-
FOCUS Patty. Please tell me antibiotics are still working.
…I mean some of them are-
You are not filling me with confidence.
Not my job sweetie. Of course, the usefulness of antibiotics is dependent on the bacteria that it is treating. For example, many antibiotics, including penicillin, work by destroying bacterial cell walls usually using an enzyme. But say a strain of bacteria develops a mutation which creates a substance that breaks down that enzyme, that antibiotic is suddenly useless. Like trying to drown a shark.
Are we the shark or the water?
Not the point Mark. Of course, we don’t just have one antibiotic for everything; we do have back-ups. However, this process can and will be repeated with those too, since those little microbial buggers are so prone to mutations. Patients misusing antibiotics only amplifies the problem, such as not taking the required dose or using them to treat minor coughs and colds. This happens until you get bacteria that are resistant to almost all antibiotics, like tuberculosis.
Didn’t we deal with that?
Lol. Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) has been observed to be unaffected by two of the most powerful anti-TB drugs isoniazid and rifampicin. In 2016 alone nearly 500000 people were diagnosed with MDR-TB. It’s not just tuberculosis either; you might have seen recently in the news that drug-resistant gonorrhoea has been identified in the UK. We are seeing this pattern emerging across many bacterial species that once caused great danger to people before the age of penicillin.
Hold the phone, we can’t just be doing nothing, we have plenty of scientists who must be working on new cures?
Of course we do. In fact, only very recently researchers at the Rockefeller University discovered an entirely new class of antibiotics in soil samples, found to be a formidable line of defence against this mutant bacteria.
…I mean yes obviously. But researching for new treatments isn’t the difficult part; it’s using this knowledge to develop the new drugs for human need. There were three novel antimicrobial drugs developed-
Exactly! We’re making new drugs all the time-
-In the past 40 years.
And it’s not for not trying hard enough. The process from finding a promising new drug molecule to having it licensed takes more than a decade. Let’s say ONE drug passes all the clinical trials and is accepted to be used. Guess how many others don’t make it?
I feel like I’ll regret this. 50?
…If you take that number and multiply it by 20, then bingo!
It seems that, while people have recently started warning about misusing antibiotics, this is too little, too late. With the antimicrobial drug pipeline so dry, it will be decades before we develop new antibiotics, and by that time the tidal wave will have hit. We’re on course for a return to the dark ages of people dying from previously preventable diseases, and after routine operations. And with antiobiotic science the way it is, we can’t do much other than brace for microbial doom. Are you ok Mark? You’ve gone pale.
W-Was there anything else you needed to say?
Oh yes! Before I forget:
If anyone has taken a course of antibiotics, and you start feeling better and think “it won’t hurt if I miss the last few doses”, and you are reading this:
YOU ARE THE REASON WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS.
If I sound rude, then good. I meant it.