Superbugs!  That is the name given to antibiotic resistant bacteria.  Because of our indiscriminate use of antibiotics, more and more bacteria are developing resistance to them and posing an ever greater threat that we will be forced back to the bad old days before antibiotics when bacteria killed wide swaths of the population, especially the young and the infirm.  Already it is estimated that superbugs kill 5 million people a year and that this number will increase to 10 million by the year 2050.  10 million a year is one person every three seconds.

Oxford-led study shows how AI can detect antibiotic resistance in as little as 30 minutes | University of Oxford

The rise of the antibiotic resistant bacteria did not occur overnight.  It is the result of years of foolish use of antibiotics by farmers, industry, doctors, hospitals, and individuals.  Instead of recognizing the importance of antibiotics and doing everything in our power to assure that they continue to be effective against the bacteria that cause significant illness, we have wasted their power and virtually guaranteed that they would become useless.  We made the rise of the superbugs inevitable.

We always assume that science will save us by developing another antibiotic that will replace one that has lost its effectiveness.  So far, science has not disappointed.  It has come through for us time and again, but the superbugs are nothing if not persistent and there are trillions of them.  There are only so many ways to kill bacteria and scientists have already thought of most of them and have incorporated them into existing antibiotics.  There aren’t many avenues left.  Maybe it’s time for something completely different.

How about viruses?  For countless millennia, viruses and bacteria have been at war.  Some viruses evolved to prey on certain types of bacteria.  They are called bacteriophages, or phages for short.  Researchers are now trying to identify which phages are effective against which superbugs.  Bacteria have some defenses against these natural enemies.  After all, they have been warring for a long time and if the bacteria did not have defenses, they would have been wiped out long ago.  So far, however, the research has suggested that a combination of phages and antibiotics are a one-two punch that the superbugs cannot resist.

There is still a long way to go in perfecting our ability to use these natural predators in a safe and effective way.  In the meantime, use existing antibiotics wisely so they don’t lose their effectiveness any sooner than absolutely necessary.  Here is a good resource on the wise use of antibiotics.


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