Antibiotic Resistance – Defeating the Superbugs

The Brooke Army medical Center experienced what happens when a superbug enters a hospital. Often the only choice for doctors is to use antibiotics which themselves can be harmful. Antibiotic Resistance is a self-perpetuating problem.

Antibiotic Resistance
Medical Center Ambulances

Colonel Clint Murray “The antibiotics that I could use 10 years ago are almost completely ineffective now for some of the bacteria that we have. And often times we are resorting to that last-ditch effort of antibiotics. If we don’t fix this issue, we’re eventually not going to have antibiotics.”

The reason scientists are concerned is that over the last 10 years, antibiotic resistance has been growing across the world, which has forced scientists to devise new strategies to combat it.

Dr Ruth McNerney

Dr Ruth McNerney
Dr Ruth McNerney

Dr Ruth McNerney is at the forefront of the battle against tuberculosis, a disease caused by bacteria we thought we’d confined to history.

Ruth McNerney “In the 18th and 19th century, tuberculosis was the biggest killer, full stop. I mean, not just in infectious diseases.”

In the middle of the 19th century, life expectancy was just 41. In this time before antibiotics, diseases like TB spread through the crowded and cramped streets.

Ruth McNerney “It transmits very easily through the air so it’s very hard to avoid getting tuberculosis, you don’t know you’ve been exposed, you don’t have to do anything to catch TB, except continue breathing. It would just affect everyone. Young and old.”

Tuberculosis – TB

Amoxicillin - An Antibiotic
Amoxicillin – An Antibiotic

One of the great achievements of modern medicine was the defeat of this disease with a cocktail of antibiotics. Today, over 8 million people live in London without giving a thought to tuberculosis. But our crowded cities are still the perfect playground for bacteria.

Ruth McNerney “We pour into the city every day, we pour down the tube, onto the buses, out round the streets. If someone had infectious tuberculosis, and they were coughing out the tiny droplets then it would be very easy to infect so many people. It would spread very, very easily. Now if we can imagine that we didn’t have the antibiotics to treat tuberculosis, well, we’d be in big trouble because that’s the only way we can stop tuberculosis spreading.”

But the fear now is that our achievement in controlling this disease is being threatened. Dr McNerney is seeing a rise in cases of antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis.

Dr Ruth McNerney
Dr Ruth McNerney

Ruth McNerney “We’re now seeing the emergence of strains of tuberculosis that have antibiotic resistance. And that’s becoming quite a serious problem. One of the issues is that we don’t know how much drug resistance there is because it’s actually quite difficult to measure.”

For now, the resistant strains showing up in the UK can still be treated by a small number of antibiotics. But outside the UK, Dr McNerney has seen a new strain of tuberculosis emerge that is resistant to all of the antibiotics we have to treat it.

Ruth McNerney “It could arrive tomorrow on an aeroplane. It might already be here. We don’t know. We just have to be on our guard. We just can’t afford to let this genie out of the bag.”

External Links

Antibiotic Resistance Awareness Campaign – NHS Choices

Antibiotic Resistance | Dr. Ruth McNerney | Defeating the Superbugs
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