One Hundred Thousand DeadIn Science Daily July 13,2011 they announced that one hundred thousand Americans will die from bacterial infections this year - that’s equivalent to the entire population of Burbank, CA. Unfortunately, the number of these unnecessary deaths will only continue to increase in the future as more bacteria becomes antibiotic-resistant. What can be done to stop this?
At the moment, food animals consume more antibiotics than humans. A recent report noted that 80% of the antibiotics used each year in the U.S. are used in livestock feed. We could slow the development of antibiotic-resistance by taking preventive antibiotics out of livestock feed and only giving the animals that are sick antibiotics. We can also stop giving antibiotics to patients with viral illnesses. Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial diseases, but often prescribed for viruses.
Overuse of antibiotics is not the only way that resistance spreads, however. Bacteria has two sets of DNA in each cell. If a resistant bacteria touches another bacteria, it can pass one set of its DNA to the adjacent bacteria thus spreading resistance. Also the resistance can spread to the offspring of a resistant bacteria. Another way of spreading bacterial resistance is through a virus called a bacteriophage. There are two types of bacteriophage (phage, for short): one of these, which is called lytic phage, kills bacteria, whereas the other, which is called temperate phage, will live in the bacteria and let the bacteria survive. This phage will reproduce itself in the offspring. When the bacteria becomes weak, this phage will leave the bacteria and infect other bacteria. Many times the temperate phage’s DNA will mix with the DNA of the bacteria and can spread resistance. With all the ways to spread resistance and all the overuse of antibiotics, resistance is increasing faster than ever.
So how can we stop bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics? One way might be with new and different antibiotic drugs. Right now, there are no new antibiotics being developed. Since the sixties there have been fewer and fewer of these drugs in development. It costs an estimated eight hundred million to bring an antibiotic to market; since some of the drugs will not get through the approval process, that eight hundred million may go for nothing. It is quite a risk to take for a medicine that will only be taken for two or three weeks. Congress is trying to pass a law to extend the length of a patent on antibiotics, giving the drug companies more incentive to develop them.
Of course, antibiotics have disadvantages other than resistance. Many times they are not effective in treating parts of the body where there is poor blood circulation. They also kill the beneficial bacteria in a body - such as the bacteria that helps us digest our food - along with the the disease-causing bacteria. This may lead to fungal infection in the lungs and other organs, or can cause secondary bacterial infections in people with weakened immune systems.
What if there were a solution other than antibiotics to fight stop the tide of infection-related deaths? In fact, there is a different way to fight bacterial infections - using lytic phage to kill bacteria. Phage therapy has been used for over 90 years with only minor side effects. Low blood circulation is not a problem. Killing beneficial bacteria is not a problem. Fungal infections are not a problem. Secondary bacterial infections are not a problem.
So why is this safe and effective therapy not used in the United States? Mostly because of the way our drugs are approved in this country, and because of a disrespect for scientific research done in the former USSR. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a “one size fits all” mentality. The phages that work well in Florida may not work as well in New York because different places have different bacteria. Even people in the same geographical area can have different bacteria. So because phage therapy cannot be tested using the same “formulation” for every infection, the FDA won’t accept the research showing the safety and efficacy of this solution.
What I want to achieve with this blog is to spread awareness of the problem. I want to get other people’s ideas on how to solve this issue. I want to get other people involved in spreading the word - to find people willing to talk to their congressman. I want to see the day when we are not losing 100,000 people a year needlessly! Leave a message on the blog and I will get back to you,