We like to think we are smarter than disease.
Or at least we know ways to prevent it.
While we may be constantly improving at the latter, I worry about the former. Nature has a way of adapting and microorganisms seem especially tenacious and resilient. To combat infections of these "bugs," we have been rather reliant on antibiotics and with good reason. They work. Long term use of these drugs has, however, made microbial life more and more resistant. Which makes the following news particularly scary.
A woman in Nevada has died from an infection that was resistant to all 26 American antibiotics. You can read the full report from the CDC here.
The Nevada woman, in her 70s, had been previously hospitalized in India after breaking her leg which led to an infection in her hip. None of the 26 antibiotics in the US inventory were effective against this infection. Later testing of the bacteria that killed her showed fosfomycin to be somewhat effective, but that antibiotic is not approved in the U.S. to treat that type of infection. This hapless woman was kept in quarantine while in the U.S. hospital and there are zero signs that the super-resistant bacteria that caused the infection has spread. That might sound like good news, and it is, but Sarah Zhang at The Atlantic explains why we should still be worried:
"The danger isn’t just that a single pan-resistant bacteria emerges and terrorizes the world. It’s that pan-resistant bacteria can keep emerging independently. The nightmare might go away, only to come back somewhere else."
When first read this news, I had an odd chain of reactions. My initial response was as a germaphobe. I don't even like touching the handles of public washrooms. The idea that germs completely resistant to all antibiotics can just pop up is enough to make me want to swim in hand sanitizer (although such products may be contributing to the problem in their own way.) Then a snide side of me rather liked the kick this gives to human complacency. We like to think we have reason and rectitude on our side. We're clever. We're special. We can figure our way out of most anything. Yeah. Well, maybe not this time.
Then again, this is something of a relief. Worried about your job? Your finances? Living in tyranny? Well good news! A fast-spreading, untreatable pandemic might end all your anxieties for you.
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