After the basics and history of Antibiotics, it is finally time to look at what’s going on right now. Why are we about to lose the biggest battle against infectious diseases of all time? And can we come up with new – or better; old – ideas to end the War?
A simplified explanation about the fighting skills of antibiotics is as ugly as Weinstein’s pick-up lines. When antibiotics target bacteria, they attach to it like a tree hugger dipped in supper glue and spray their loads of antibiotic snot into the bacteria. This kills the bacteria. They die, maybe because of disgust and shame, probably because their cell walls are destroyed, and all their mini-intestines are bursting out.
However, it appears that bacteria had found multiple ways to defend themselves against our antibiotics. One of which is that, when we bomb them, only the bacteria in the bomb shelters will survive. Well, these clever families had an aha-moment and told their kids to get bomb shelters as well. And not only that, no, they also told their neighbors about the shelters. In fact, they’re telling everyone that gets into close contact with them. So all information about getting resistant are being shared constantly.
In every war mistakes are made. And for some it might be difficult to admit: in the Antibiotic War it is no different. We, humans (well most of you are), are to blame.
In the first Article on this topic I mentioned that Antibiotics kill bacteria and bacteria only. But still many people and doctor want to treat viruses and/or parasites with antibiotics. It doesn’t help the war, on the contrary, it provides bacteria the opportunity to practice their fighting skills and create bomb shelters.
We are also making mistakes in this War, by practices in an area which doesn’t seem to be linked to this War: the Meat Industry. As a species we eat meat and want a lot of it. To keep up with demand, farmers made a growth cocktail for their stock to make them grow faster and fatter. In this cocktail they put, you guessed it, antibiotics. The same kind as we use to treat diseases are being used for perfectly healthy animals to make them grow. Now this is a problem in two ways:
- directly: when we eat the meat of the cow with so many antibiotics in them, we also eat the resistant bacteria that’s in the meat. And they are planning to stay.
- indirectly: more stock with resistant bacteria ensure resistant bacteria all around them. They tell the bacteria from the farmer the tricks of resistance. And the fertilizer made from the dungs of these cows contains the resistant bacteria which we are spreading over the fields where our vegetables grow, we drive past it, we touch it. You get the picture.
The new, but also old Superhero? Bacteriophages
It’s like we had a battleplan and showed our entire arsenal to the enemy years before actually attacking them and then keep showing it to their families in the hope they won’t tell or act on it. Well, of course they will and of course they did.
What can we do? Well, I’m an infectious disease specialist and if I want to kill a lot of terrorists in a short time and I know where they’re hiding, I’ll might just throw some Ebola on their heads. That will get rid of them. Can we do this with bacteria? Yes, we can. Do we need Obama? Well, maybe, but for this war we need a “disease” that can actually kill bacteria. Its name; Bacteriophage. Discovered in 1919 and severely neglected since the rise of antibiotics. But it has potential people, really. It’s being used already in some countries to treat local wound infections. It’s not developed yet to survive the whole complexity of a human. In my view we need to spend some of our scientific budget to explore this option. We can throw away our original battle plan and attack the bacteria in a way they never saw coming. And who knows, maybe we’ll find Viral-“phages” and Parasito-“phages” as well.
In the meanwhile: some advice to survive the War
We all know how long it takes for a new idea to get to the public. So, in the meanwhile let’s try this:
- Don’t take antibiotics if you don’t need to! People specialized in this – ID specialist like me or medical microbiologists – should be consulted if there is any doubt on this point. I expect a lot of calls!
- For doctors: Take cultures before starting antibiotics and change to a sniper as soon as possible
- For doctors: Stop antibiotics if a different cause is proven as the source of the infection
- For governments: demand a stop on antibiotic use for growth of stock.
- Eat other things than just meat and think about what kind of meat you’re eating
- Wash your hands before you eat, like really, wash them, no kidding.
Do this, and we might stand a chance against this crisis until we implement our bacteriophages.
Good luck everyone, see you on the other side!