Imagine a world where a scraped knee on a playground could have deadly complications. A world where chemotherapy and radiation are less effective cancer treatments because of increasingly common post-treatment infections, or where lifesaving drugs we regularly rely on today no longer heal people.
Unfortunately, those hypothetical dangers are quickly becoming real: The rise of antibiotic-resistant bugs threatens to render extremely vital drugs all but useless, often with deadly results. Yet, if we act together we can find a solution to this real and present threat.
In its recent report on antimicrobial resistance, the World Health Organization (WHO) said: “A post-antibiotic era in which common infections and minor injuries can kill — far from being an apocalyptic fantasy — is instead a very real possibility for the 21st Century.”
The WHO report is just the latest in a string of increasingly dire warnings from the medical community. Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said: “If we are not careful, we will soon be in a post-antibiotic era, and for some patients and some microbes, we are already there.”
Already, two million Americans fall ill every year from antibiotic-resistant infections, and according to the CDC, 23,000 of them die from those infections annually. Public health experts are in agreement: if we don’t act, the problem will only worsen.
Experts warn that treatable diseases like pneumonia, meningitisand tuberculosis may once again become untreatable. Organ transplants, chemotherapy, hip replacements, radiation therapy and other staples of modern medicine may become overly risky without effective antibiotics to treat infections.
There are several causes leading to the development of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, and a major contributor is the use of low doses of antibiotics in factory farms. More than 70 percent of antibiotics in classes used in human medicine are sold for use in food for animals. These drugs are placed in the food and water of livestock to accelerate growth and help compensate for often horrific, unsanitary living conditions.