PUBLISHED: 00:30 EST, 26 October 2013 | UPDATED: 01:17 EST, 26 October 2013
Health crisis: Dr Arjun Srinivasan, the associate director of the CDC, told PBS’ Frontline that misuse and overuse of antibiotics over the years have rendered them powerless to fight infections
A high-ranking official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared in an interview with PBS that the age of antibiotics has come to an end.
‘For a long time, there have been newspaper stories and covers of magazines that talked about “The end of antibiotics, question mark?”‘ said Dr Arjun Srinivasan. ‘Well, now I would say you can change the title to “The end of antibiotics, period.”’
The associate director of the CDC sat down with Frontline over the summer for a lengthy interview about the growing problem of antibacterial resistance.
Srinivasan, who is also featured in a Frontline report called ‘Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria,’ which aired Tuesday, said that both humans and livestock have been overmedicated to such a degree that bacteria are now resistant to antibiotics.
‘We’re in the post-antibiotic era,’ he said. ‘There are patients for whom we have no therapy, and we are literally in a position of having a patient in a bed who has an infection, something that five years ago even we could have treated, but now we can’t.’.
Dr Srinivasan offered an example of this notion, citing the recent case of three Tampa Bay Buccaneers players who made headlines after reportedly contracting potentially deadly MRSA infections, which until recently were largely restricted to hospitals.
About 10 years ago, however, the CDC official began seeing outbreaks of different kinds of MRSA infections in schools and gyms.
‘In hospitals, when you see MRSA infections, you oftentimes see that in patients who have a catheter in their blood, and that creates an opportunity for MRSA to get into their bloodstream,’ he said.
Nightmare superbug: Srinivasan said that about 10 years ago, he began seeing outbreaks of different kinds of MRSA infections, which previously had been limited to hospitals, in schools and gyms
‘In the community, it was causing a very different type of infection. It was causing a lot of very, very serious and painful infections of the skin, which was completely different from what we would see in health care.’
With bacteria constantly evolving and developing resistance to conventional antibiotics, doctors have been forced to ‘reach back into the archives’ and ‘dust off’ older, more dangerous cures like colistin.
WHAT ARE ANTIBIOTICS?
Antibiotics, also known as antibacterials, are types of drugs that destroy or slow down the growth of bacteria.
Antibiotics are used to treat infections caused by bacteria. Bacteria are microscopic organisms, some of which may cause illness.
Before bacteria can multiply and cause symptoms, the body’s immune system can usually destroy them. But if white blood cells fail to fight off the infection, antibiotics can help.
The first antibiotic was penicillin, which was discovered in 1928 by Scottish Professor Alexander Fleming.
Such penicillin-related antibiotics as ampicillin, amoxicillin and benzylpenicilllin are widely used today to treat a variety of infections.
Source: Medical News Today
‘It’s very toxic,’ said Srinivasan. ‘We don’t like to use it. It damages the kidneys. But we’re forced to use it in a lot of instances.’
The expert went on, saying that the discovery of antibiotics in 1928 by Professor Alexander Fleming revolutionized medicine, allowing doctors to treat hundreds of millions of people suffering from illnesses that had been considered terminal for centuries.
Antibiotics also paved the way for successful organ transplants, chemotherapy, stem cell and bone marrow transplantations – all the procedures that weaken the immune system and make the body susceptible to infections.
However, the CDC director explained that people have fueled the fire of bacterial resistance through rampant overuse and misuse of antibiotics.
‘These drugs are miracle drugs, these antibiotics that we have, but we haven’t taken good care of them over the 50 years that we’ve had them,’ he told Frontline.
Srinivasan added that pharmaceutical companies are at least partially to blame for this problem, saying that they have neglected the development of new and more sophisticated antibiotics that could keep up with bacterial resistance because ‘there’s not much money to be made’ in this field.
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