I’ve written about this issue before in the context of the Superbugs, contracted by 2,000,000 Americans a year, that are being created by the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in farm animals (that we eat) and in people. Maryn McKenna writes in Imaging the Post-Antibiotics Future that the 2,000,000 people who get infected by these superbugs every year will be a trivial part of the new reality with no effective antibiotics.
To imagine it, you have to look back to what medicine was like before antibiotics, what a miracle they were. To know where we are going, you have to know where we were:
Before antibiotics, five women died out of every 1,000 who gave birth. One out of nine people who got a skin infection died, even from something as simple as a scrape or an insect bite. Three out of ten people who contracted pneumonia died from it. Ear infections caused deafness; sore throats were followed by heart failure. In a post-antibiotic era, would you mess around with power tools? Let your kid climb a tree? Have another child?
This shit is scary and it is real. The CDC keeps changing the guidelines trying to get veterinarians and physicians to stop overprescribing antibiotics, but without real legislation it is hard. Like with climate change it’s a slow motion train wreck.
In 2009, Tom Dukes — a fifty-four-year-old inline skater and body-builder — developed diverticulosis , a common problem in which pouches develop in the wall of the intestine. He was coping with it, watching his diet and monitoring himself for symptoms, when searing cramps doubled him over and sent him to urgent care. One of the thin-walled pouches had torn open and dumped gut bacteria into his abdomen — but for reasons no one could explain, what should have been normal E. coli were instead highly drug-resistant. Doctors excised eight inches of his colon in emergency surgery. Over several months, Dukes recovered with the aid of last-resort antibiotics, delivered intravenously. For years afterward, he was exhausted and in pain. “I was living my life, a really healthy life,” he says. “It never dawned on me that this could happen.”
IT… CAN… HAPPEN. We all need to be aware and insist on no antibiotics in our food supply and not taking them ourselves unless they are appropriate, and then using the full course, always!