“There are only four commonly used antibiotics. If they don’t work, you go to vancomycin. If that doesn’t work—you die.”
By Keith Johnson
In recent years, deadly new strains of drug-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” have both threatened and claimed the lives of thousands around the globe, leading many health professionals to suspect that the United States may be well on its way to a health crisis of epidemic proportions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have now classified antibiotic resistance as one of the greatest threats to human health. “Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill,” warns WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan.
According to The Lancet medical journal, one virulent strain of common staph bacteria, Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), “infects more than 94K people and kills nearly 19K in the U.S. every year, more deaths than are caused by HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, emphysema and homicide combined.”
Although MRSA is commonly contracted by touching contaminated surfaces, a recent study by Leeds University has discovered that it now has the ability to become airborne. According to the BBC, “Researchers carried out lab tests on a bacteria associated with MRSA and found it could travel up to [11 feet].”
Even more shocking is a new study by the Journal of Wildlife Diseases, which found MRSA present in rabbits and shorebirds—suggesting that wild animals could serve as yet another vector by which humans can become infected.
Years of overuse or misuse of antibiotics is directly linked to bacterial resistance, and costs the U.S. healthcare system in excess of $20B per year. “We are really at a crisis right now,” says University of California, Los Angeles physician Daniel Uslan. “We are now seeing bacteria for which we have no effective antibiotics.”
MRSA is just one of many emerging bacterial threats being reported across the nation. In August, a woman seeking a lung transplant at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center in Washington, D.C., became the first of 19 patients at the hospital to contract a new superbug called KPC-Klebsiella pneumonia. Since then, seven of those patients have died.
In India, where restrictions on antibiotics are non-existent, an even more dangerous superbug has been identified. New Delhi metallo-betalactamase (or NDM-1) is found in the water supply and is capable of creating drug resistance to almost every other bacterium it comes into contact with. Since it was first discovered in 2008, the strain has been responsible for infections in Australia, Britain, Canada, Sweden and the U.S.
Tuberculosis, which was once treatable with antibiotics, is also becoming resistant to multiple drugs. The same can be said about certain sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea and chlamydia, as well as food-borne illnesses such as E. coli and salmonella.
This AMERICAN FREE PRESS reporter recently spoke with Dr. Winn Parker, a licensed medical scientist specializing in bio-medicine, who warns of new biological threats emerging in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
“There are all forms of contaminated water, questionable food and three types of toxic molds that have yet to be identified,” said Parker. “I’ve been told that we are dealing with a variety of antibiotic-resistant bacteria like clostridium difficile (intestinal bacteria), salmonella and E. coli. These things you might expect from a storm like this. But we also have two break-off species of acinetobacter baumannii, which is very lethal. In fact, you could use that bacteria as a bio-terrorist weapon.”
Parker went on to say that existing antibiotics are obsolete in fighting these superbugs and that there has been little progress in developing new drugs that will kill the existing strains.
“There are only four commonly used antibiotics,” said Parker. “Those are ampicillin (a generic penicillin), kanamycin, tetracycline and chloramphenicol. If they don’t work, you go to vancomycin. If that doesn’t work—you die.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that the approval of new antibiotics has decreased by 70% since the mid-1980s, and Parker says he does not see any “white horse” in the coming years that will reverse this trend.
“Under Obamacare, there are restrictions on the research and development [R&D] of antibiotics,” he said. “And the reason they’re doing this is to protect immunization programs conducted by the big pharmaceutical houses. [These companies] only get reimbursed on their R&D budgets for diseases they can get a high return on. So they don’t take on orphan—[or rare]—diseases that don’t get much backing through [government] grants and proposals.”
Parker said that the one-size-fits-all approach to developing antibiotics is no longer a viable option in combating superbugs.
“The future of medicine is based upon personalized medicine,” he said, “where bio-markers are used to identify if a subject has a particular gene [or disease] so that a customized antibiotic or vaccine can be created to deal with that specific problem.”
Some of the most prevalent anti-biotic-resistant bacteria
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria kills nearly 19K Americans every year—more than the number of AIDS deaths per year.
Streptococcus Pyogenes is the cause of many important human diseases, ranging from mild skin infections to life-threatening systemic diseases.
Streptococcus Pneumoniae is a major cause of community-acquired infections, such as bronchitis, pneumonia, otitis media, pharyngitis and meningitis. The bacterium was once eradicated easily with penicillin, but no longer for some strains.
Neisseria Gonorrhoeae is making a comeback.
Escherichia Coli is becoming more drug-resistant.
Mycobacterium Tuberculosis was once easily eradicated, now coming back with a vengeance. Salmonella Enteritidis is the second most common bacterial food-borne illness in the United States. Salmonella kills about 600 of those it sickens. Salmonella bacteria live in the intestinal tracts of animals and birds. People can get it by eating beef and poultry contaminated with animal feces.
Campylobacter Jejuni is found in the intestines of chickens. This bacteria doesnʼt typically make birds sick, but can be a problem for people who come into contact with contaminated chickens.
Enterococcus Faecium represents more than 25% of enterococci associated with bloodstream infections in hospitalized patients in the U.S.
Pseudomonas Aeruginosa is a common bacterium which can cause inflammation and sepsis. If able to colonize in organs, results can be fatal.
Clostridium Difficile is the most serious cause of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Disinfectants containing bleach are effective in killing the organisms.