Thursday, February 06, 2003

Too little, too late

Read the following story and could only thing to myself, "If they had only done this about a decade ago."

I am a microbiologist by trade, I should know. Got my B.S. and M.S. degrees in Medical Technology/Clinical Laboratory Science. My favorite subject (Medical Technology is basically a four discipline trade... blood banking, chemistry, hematology and microbiology) was always microbiology. I'm also now getting my PhD in Microbiology and Immunology. When I first did my clinical rotations for my B.S. I had a mentor in the Millard Fillmore Hospital Microbiology lab who told me "For some bacteria there is only one antibiotic left that can be used to treat them, vancomycin. It is a last resort drug. If these bugs (microbiologist slang for bacteria) ever become resistant, a lot of people will die, there will be no cure."

That was back in 1994. By 1996 vancomycin resistance was showing up in Staphylococcus aureus, one of the largest contributors to nosocomial (hospital aquired) infections, across the world. Quite often, these sorts of infections result in death. The first case in the United States was reported in Pennsylvania this past year (2002). This is not a Good Thing (tm).

Unfortunately, chances are that it's too late. Vancomycin resistance, like other antibiotic resistances, are genetically transferred. Once there is one report, expect more. I hate to be alarmist but we really don't have anyone to blame but ourselves. First, doctors should know better. They prescribe antibiotics for people with all sorts of maladies without checking to see if they are bacterial in nature. If you have a viral infection, antibiotics are not going to work. Antibiotics only target bacteria, not viruses. Second, when you are told to take all of your medicine and you don't, that allows the few bacteria that have survived to build up a tolerance. This tolerance eventually turns into resistance. Plenty of blame to go around.

Eventually, we might regress back into a pre-antibiotic age.

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