when scientific ignorance turns deadly for everyone, literally
Superbugs and antibiotic resistance are not a matter to take lightly. We may soothe ourselves with the fact that so far, they’re colonizing the elderly with compromised immune systems, rarely resist every single class of drugs that we still have available, and that there are supercompuer-aided ways to make brand new classes of antibiotics faster than ever. But the sad fact is that we have encountered organisms that are invulnerable to all our treatments and a woman unfortunate enough to come down with one, died. It’s pretty much a given that bacteria will evolve resistance to whatever we throw at them. At the same time, we should’ve had some breathing room to keep developing new classes of drugs to keep up with them. What happened? Indiscriminate overuse and improper intake on a global scale, from agriculture to doctors’ offices created the perfect storm of selective pressures for bacteria to evolve faster and faster, threatening our ability to keep up with them.
Part of the problem is preemptively feeding livestock with antibiotics to beef it up and keep it healthy until it’s time for slaughter. Another is being able to obtain antibiotics for every sniffle, cough, and allergy, when they will more or less function as placebos, and not taking the entire course after the most troublesome symptoms abate. Yet another is nations where anyone can buy mountains of antibiotics any time for any reason, and improperly attempt to self-medicate with them. It seems that mo matter how many times scientists write lengthy, impassioned pleas backed by clinical evidence that abusing antibiotics is already starting to backfire on us, it can’t convince farmers not to dump them in feed, people to just take some decongestant and mild pain relievers for a cold or a flu, and to finish the entire course every single time, not just stop when they start feeling better. This seemingly willful ignorance of basic science that can literally save your life is perhaps the most alarming part of this situation. Not listening to science is literally killing us.
So if you’re demanding antibiotics every time you go to the doctor, then fail to complete the entire course, and are then buying antibacterial everything to use around the house, you’re actively contributing to the future slow and painful deaths of millions from infections we could have treated. You’re also making potentially life-saving surgeries that could’ve added years of quality life for who knows how many patients too risky to attempt in the long term. Cheap, plentiful antibiotics seem like a wonder of medicine, but they come at a cost. They have to be managed careful and treated with caution. If we’ll end up stuck in an arms race with microorganisms solely because no matter how many times we warned farmers, doctors, and patients, they refused to listen, it will be a triumph of scientific illiteracy and ignorance over what is still in most ways a world-changing scientific innovation that helped vastly prolong lifespans and push the frontiers of medicine. For it to be so casually and glibly undone would make a for a good Twilight Zone style cautionary vignette, but sadly, this is the reality with which we’re faced.