When the future becomes the past: MRSA and microbial resistance

Let’s step into a time machine for a moment. Acquire some plutonium, unlock the Delorean, rev it up to 88 miles per hour and we’re good to go.  Destination: 1770.

The late 18th century was a pretty great place. Nations were being thought up and defended, women piled their hair into fantastic curly creations complete with white powder and men could sport walking sticks without looking like a try-hard hipster.

Sounds great right?

Unfortunately, it was also a time when the result of contracting a minor cold was often death.

Back to the future… (get it?).

This is the scenario (albeit somewhat exaggerated) that awaits us as a society if we do not tackle the problem of antibiotic resistance, according to the top health official in the UK.

Sallie Davies, chief medical officer for England, called for a global fight against microbial, or antibiotic, resistance, as well as a push to fill a drug “discovery void” to treat mutating superbug infections like MRSA, the National Post reported Wednesday.

According to the same report, new antibiotics are few and far between, and only a handful have been marketed in the past few decades. This means that when a new strain of resistant bacteria emerges, there is very little we can do to treat against it.

As I wrote in a previous post on the subject, it’s not that there haven’t been efforts. In 2011, the World Health Organization made microbial resistance the theme for World Health Day. Two separate sets of legislators have introduced bills to Congress.

But as Wired reported in 2011, the slow pace of research comes down to one thing: money.

“For every death from AIDS, the US federal research establishment awards approximately $69,000 in grant funds. And for every death from MRSA, it awards $570,” the article stated.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2005, roughly 94,000 people developed their first invasive (i.e., serious) MRSA infection in the United States. Approximately 19,000 of them died. That is a higher death toll than that associated to HIV and AIDS. Of these infections, about 86% are healthcare-associated and 14% are community-associated. And according to Davies, it will only get worse.

“Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat,” she told reporters on Monday in the context of a new report on infectious disease. “If we don’t act now, any one of us could go into hospital in 20 years for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can’t be treated by antibiotics.”

“And,” she added, “routine operations like hip replacements or organ transplants could be deadly because of the risk of infection.”

So much for the future.

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2 Responses to “When the future becomes the past: MRSA and microbial resistance”

  1. […] What’s more, coming up with new antibiotics have not been high on our priority list. […]

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