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Real Health News from Medicine's Most Notorious Myth-Buster

October 2010 Vol. 10, No. 6
Help me put a stop to.
The No. 1 threat to our
national security
Every year, undercover assassins kill almost 100,000 Americans. But this
clear and present danger tp our national security isn't from an enemy nation,
or a terrorist or a radical religious sect. It's in the form of
microscopic organisms called bacteria.
They're not just any These mutant superbugs have developed a
resistance to some of our most powerful drugs, and if they continue unchecked,
they'll bring an unprecedented health crisis on the entire nation.
Remember the days when polio, tuberculosis, and small pox plagued the coun-
try? Hardly a family was unaffected by these diseases. Well, I hate to be the
one to break it to you, but ... they're back.
John Fisher, M.D., a pathologist and consultant for the WHO, said, uThe
pendulum has incredibly begun to swing back to the 1930s. Hospitals are in
jeopardy of once again being overwhelmed with untreatable infectious diseases
such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, meningitis, typhoid fever, and dysentery."
And along with the old menaces, there are a few new faces to add to the lineup.
Superbugs declare World War III
It,wasn't that long ago that the MRSA (Methicillin-resrstant Staphylococcus
aureus) infection entered the picture and turned our antibiotic-reliant world
on its head. We knew it would happen ,sooner or later. Even the man who first
discovered penicillin, Sir Alexander Fleming, tried to warn us that overusing
the drug would lead to bacteria.
Now. this one infection alone kills more people than AIDS.
But as widespread and as deadly as this infection can be, it isn't alone.
And in some places, it's not even the. most prevalent. In the Southeast U.S.,
another superbug has taken over MRSA's top spot on the superbug chart. c. diff
(Clostridium difficile) is responsible for making almost 500,000 people sick
and for killing nearly 28,000.
Overall, antibiotic-resistant superbugs are estimated to cost the already
overburdened healthcare system between $16 and $26 billion per year.
Should I go on? Because there's plenty more where this news came from. Just
recently, a new drug-resistant strain of E. coli, called ST131, has entered the
scene. It's been reported across the U.S., and in several other countries as well.
And worst of all, scientists have no idea what its source is or how it spreads.
Dr. James Johnson of the VA Medical Center in .Minneapolis said,
If this
strain gains one additional resistance gene, it will become almost untreatable
and will be a true superbug."
Let's hope ST131 doesn't meet up with NDM-1. The newly discovered New Delhi
metallo-beta-lactamase gene has an uncanny ability to take your run-of-the-mill
bacteria and turn them into the type that's resistant to antibiotics.
This resistant gene has been identified in the U.K., Australia, Canada, the
Netherlands, Sweden, and the U.S., and it's been traced back to India and Pakistan,
where people frequently travel to get less expensive medical treatment. (Turns
out those cheap procedures have some pretty costly side effects!)
Researchers, writing in Lancet Infectious Diseases, said,
The potential
of NDM-1 to be a worldwide public health problem is great, and coordinated
international surveillance is needed."
So why am I telling you this?
Because the tens of thousands of people who have died so far--and tens of
billions of dollars we
ve spent treating these sicknesses--will look like
small potatoes compared to the casualties we'll be facing in the future unless
we do something to put a stop to this health threat.
And the first step? Identify the source of the problem.
How human error is responsible for
America's looming health crisis
If you've ever been given a course of antibiotics, you know the drill. Even when
you're feeling 100 percent again, you have to take the pills until they're gone.
If antibiotics are given for too short of time, at the wrong dose, for the
wrong disease, or at an inadequate strength, you run the risk of leaving some
of the strongest critters alive. When that happens, they pass on their
genes" to other bacteria, resulting in stronger infections, increased illness,
resistance to drugs--and a health crisis unlike any the nation has ever seen.
Real Health News from Medicine's Most Notorious Myth-Buster
Editor: William Campbell Douglass II, M.D.
Matthew Simons
Managing Editor:
Laurie L. Mathena
Copy Editor:
Ken Danz
2 October 201 0
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