Due to the widespread and continual use of antibiotics bacteria have evolved (I said it) to be resistance to the current drugs in circulation. Drug resistant bacteria can only be neutralized with newer drugs. Unfortunately there has been something of a slow down in the development of new antibiotic drugs leading some in the medical community to now warn that drug-resistant bacteria represent a serious threat.

 Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, said global action is needed to fight antibiotic, or antimicrobial, resistance and fill a drug “discovery void” by researching and developing new medicines to treat emerging, mutating infections.

Only a handful of new antibiotics have been developed and brought to market in the past few decades, and it is a race against time to find more, as bacterial infections increasingly evolve into “superbugs” resistant to existing drugs.

Multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) alone kills around 19,000 Americans a year or about 19,000 more than die from terrorism. If new drugs are not found the death toll from drug resistant bacteria could skyrocket as those going in for routine and minor surgery could die not from the procedure but from an infection after the fact.

“Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat. 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,” Davies told reporters as she published a report on infectious disease.

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

Antibiotics were one of the 20th century’s great medical breakthroughs and have saved countless lives, if their effect is neutralized due to a lack of innovation the consequences surely could be catastrophic with what are now easily treated routine infections becoming debilitating or possibly fatal.

Part of the problem is the permissive use of antibiotics, especially for things like the common cold where the drugs don’t even make a difference anyway and further the mutation of bacteria resistant to them. But the major deficit exists within the pharmaceutical industry which has been infected with a Neoliberal mentality concerning bureaucracy and patent trolling. The lack of innovation in the space comes from quarterly profit obsessions and a litigious attitude towards experimentation. The catastrophe already happened now we have to about the aftermath.

Photo from the Centers for Disease Control under the Public Domain