We are all Going to Die of Gangrene

This is a video that shows the evolutionary process of E. Coli in a petri dish containing varying concentrations of antibiotic:

Scary how quickly this organism can evolve, huh? I have some bad news:

Disease-causing bacteria and other microbes are increasingly evolving to resist our drugs; by 2050, these impervious infections could potentially kill ten million people a year.

The estimated death rate comes from an economist*, not a doctor. Like most economic estimates, it makes a few assumptions:

  • Scientific and pharmaceutical progress stagnate.
  • Developing countries do nothing to improve water and sanitation.
  • We all have AIDS.

The immune deficiency syndrome is necessary for this model to work. See, healthy humans deal with bacteria just fine. Our white blood cells detect and eliminate all sorts of pathogens. It’s only in the case of severe infections that antibiotics are needed to give our immune system some reinforcement.

That doesn’t mean that drug-resistant bacteria aren’t a problem. My brother works in a hospital and frequently encounters strains of super bacteria that are resistant to almost all the antibiotics they have. The fact that he hasn’t died of bacteremia just goes to show how effective a healthy white-blood-cell count can be.

The patients who struggle with drug-resistant bacteria already have compromised immune systems, and can’t fight off pathogens without help. If we want to deal with the problem of drug-resistant bacteria, we should work on treating the diseases that put patients in a condition to be vulnerable to bacteria.

*This guy gets paid by the UK Prime Minister to study the dangers of a post-antibiotic apocalypse. Terrifying predictions are how he maintains job security.

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