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Nightmare bacteria

Antibiotics…the more you use, the more you lose…

November 9, 2013
By C. Paul Martin, M.D. , Marshall Independent

The recent Southwest Minnesota State University theater production of "The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Project" presented that recurrent theme of societal ignorance and/or lack of preparation for events, often resulting in tragic outcomes. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, a dangerous, unsafe "sweat shop-type" environment, became the site of the death of 146 immigrant women and men in 1911 in New York City. Just a decade before, the supposedly "fireproof" Chicago Iroquois Theatre caught fire only a month after opening and caused the deaths of more than 600 people, mainly women and children, trapped in the new but unsafe building where stairs were blocked and unmarked exit doors opened inward. A year after the Triangle fire, the supposed "unsinkable" RMS Titanic sank with the loss of 1,500 lives, again in a situation of unperceived and ill-prepared risk.

Past events such as wars, natural disasters, plagues, and man-made calamities have contributed to the loss of life and cultures. Historical events have to be put in perspective as society copes with life struggles. However, medical progress and resultant changes have appeared to try to "catch up" with these episodes of destruction. Philosophically, we try to anticipate challenges as we look to the future. A major medical concern of many years duration is now upon us in a significant way - the emergence of the "nightmare bacteria," resistant to all known antibiotics.

Ancient peoples used natural remedies to cure local diseases with episodic success. The bark of the cinchona tree was found to ameliorate the symptoms of malaria; certain citrus fruits prevented scurvy. However, it wasn't until the late 1930s that the "sulfa" drugs were used, and only in the 1940s did Dr. Alexander Fleming discover and use penicillin and describe the effect of its use: "cures and bacterial resistance"

Although all medical personnel are educated about the phenomenon of "bacterial resistance," i.e., the use of a chemical (antibiotic) initiates genetic changes in the organism being treated, which often leads to decreasing effectiveness of the antibiotic, the medical and pharmaceutical professions were unfortunately too cavalier about heeding Dr. Fleming's (and others') warnings. Antibiotic resistance is now a very real and worrisome situation. Every year more than 2 million patients develop infections presently untreatable with present antibiotics; 23,000 die of their infection. Thus, the recent statement from the Communicable Disease Centers (CDC): [We are] "hunting the nightmare bacteria."

A vivid and often disturbing television and Internet program "Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria" by PBS Frontline explores three patient scenarios from 2011 where highly resistant super bugs present very difficult medical challenges. It is a disturbing but important program to view, describing not only the patient conditions but the medical, ethical, societal and corporate ethical aspects of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are the only drugs that show that the more they are used, the more they lose their effectiveness due to the resistance - and it costs about 600 million to a billion dollars to develop a new antibiotic! Commercial medical and drug companies are not interested in developing new antibiotics!

The Frontline program "Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria" can be viewed online at I encourage you to view it carefully, but it is NOT for young children. It will give you a new perspective about appropriate antibiotic use - by you and your physician.



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