Saturday, September 1, 2012


The subject of antibiotic resistance among the disease causing pathogens is the focus of current concern and it is assuming alarming proportion with human beings running out all options to fight this war with bugs. The NIH of USA has recently revealed how difficult it was to trace and identify new resistant strains of Klebsiella which caused a few deaths last year among those being treated in ICUs of some of the best hospitals in that country. The reasons for this dangerous situation are not far to seek. Indiscriminate prescription of front line broad spectrum for treating even a minor cold by small time physicians, probably because of inability to diagnose the diseases properly gave the opportunity to the bugs to develop resistance over a period of time. To compound this situation massive consumption of meat and products derived from animals posed a dangerous situation with frequent food poisoning being encountered with lethal consequences and to meet such contingencies the live stock industry started treating the animals with the very same antibiotics used to treat humans. To day more than 80% of antibiotics produced in the US go to meat industry and one can easily imagine the consequences of such malpractices on the disease front in humans. The above concern is reflected in a report recently published.

"Antibiotics once seemed like a miracle weapon in our fight against microbes that have plagued mankind for millenniums, killing untold numbers of people with wounds and serious infections. But we're in danger of losing that weapon. Over the years, bacteria have grown increasingly resistant to these drugs. We've squandered an invaluable resource that we've overused — some might say abused. The drug industry is spending too little to develop alternatives. Only a concerted effort by government, private industry and the public can avert a crisis. The antibiotic era started less than a century ago with the discovery of the antibacterial drug sulfa. After World War II, the emergence of penicillin allowed doctors to cure a vast range of potentially crippling, if not fatal, infections of the urinary tract, the respiratory system and other parts of the body. These antibiotics did not target a specific infection site but unleashed a lethal attack on the body's trillions of bacteria. Of course, some bacteria survived. These Darwinian "fittest bugs" not only persisted but had the uncanny ability to pass on their genes, which allowed them and other bacteria to survive the next antibiotic assault. The battle was on: humans versus the bugs. Each side started with substantial advantages. The bugs enjoyed staggering numbers, boosting genetic variability that fuels selection of increasingly resistant bugs. Medical science responded with novel antibiotics to kill the hardiest of these bugs. Who will win this epic struggle between genetic diversity and human ingenuity? After nearly a century, the bugs are emerging with the upper hand. And we bear the blame".

Indians are familiar with a strain of  Klebsiella pneuminiae, containing metallo-beta-lactamase-1 enzyme, known by the acronym NDM-1, which was traced to a hospital in New Delhi with resistance to almost all antibiotics and such super bugs are emerging more frequently in other parts of the world also with sickening regularity. One of the imponderable factors that bother health authorities in some of the advanced countries is why these super bugs are more lethal there and why they are not causing any epidemic in countries like India. A clue for this contradiction comes from the reports of health scientists that over obsession with cleanliness, over use of sanitizing chemicals and over processing of most of the foods marketed make the people more vulnerable to even minor infections due to their progressively lowered immune system. Biotechnology which provided the DNA sequencing method to mankind has to be thanked for evolving many techniques for identifying hard to detect microorganisms in extremely small concentrations and food industry is also benefited immensely by the DNA technologies for tracing contamination in food chains for prompt action to counteract against their lethal consequences. The massive on-going efforts under a global program to map out the genomes of almost all microorganisms with pathogenic consequences are expected to add to the existing armor to fight against dangerous infections more reliably and faster than hitherto possible.  


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