December 8, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 40°F


Drug-resistant “superbugs” a global concern

It seems as though sickness is part of the school experience, even in college. The flu ran rampant through the country this past winter and claimed at least one of my neighbors, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the sore throat I’m currently nursing was a product of exposure at school. If it is indeed strep throat, I’m pretty fortunate because Streptococcus pyogenes is easily treated by antibiotics, but for bacteria that are resistant to the –cillins, -cyclines, and –mycins, treatment is not as simple and may even be impossible.

This winter, Great Britain’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, said because no new antibiotics are being developed, increased use of the antibiotics we do have is leading to more strains of bacteria that are resistant to the drugs. Without functional antibiotics, Davies warned The Guardian of “a catastrophic threat” caused by untreatable infections.

Courtesy of The Guardian
Courtesy of The Guardian

As an antibiotic is widely used, it acts like a small-scale natural selection as the few bacteria that are resistant survive to pass on the resistance to their progeny. Over time, the antibiotic becomes useless because most of the bacteria in that strain are resistant to it. Because of this, medical professionals have to switch to a new drug to treat the infection, but no new classes of antibiotic have been found since 1987.

The bacteria of particular concern are gram-negative bacteria, which have an extra membrane and include E. coli and the bacterium that causes pneumonia. While cases of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, and other “superbugs” have declined dramatically, gram-negative bacteria infections have risen, and 10-20% are already resistant. About 80% of gonorrhea is resistant to tetracycline, and Great Britain has reported some cases of tuberculosis that are resistant to multiple drugs.

The development of new antibiotics isn’t a desirable pursuit for the pharmaceutical industry because resistance is inevitable and therefore profit isn’t great. Without further research, however, even a simple case of strep throat could be deadly.