Editorial: Bad bug

Published on January 17, 2017

Antibiotic capsules

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Forget Donald Trump.

Forget fake news and the Russian influence on the U.S. election. Forget about ripping up trade deals and building walls and deporting illegal immigrants.

No, maybe the biggest threat in America right now — and to the rest of us — is a much smaller thing.

A carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae known as New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase, to be exact.

Big name, little bug — but also, big danger.

It popped up in a woman in a Reno, Nevada area hospital. The woman, in her 70s, had broken her leg in India and had undergone a series of hospitalizations and treatments before returning to the United States.

With the way we have used and dispensed the most powerful array of antibiotics ever known to mankind, we might well have made our bed. In a far more serious way.

When doctors tested the bacteria, they discovered the microbe was resistant to every single one of the 26 antibiotics they tried, including a new drug, tigecycline, a tetracycline that has specifically developed to deal with antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Effectively, there was no treatment for the woman’s infection whatsoever.

The patient died of septic shock, and the Washoe County Health District in Nevada says that it is confident no other patients were infected. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report outlined the case last week.

But back to the election.

The Americans, despite all the twists and turns in Russian involvement and fake news and dirty tricks, made their own pick inside the confines of the electoral system they’ve chosen and have voted for the government they’re now going to experience. Perhaps you can’t help but feel a little exasperated when you hear a U.S. citizen say they voted to get rid of Obamacare, without ever realizing that they were voting to get rid of the Affordable Care Act and their own health insurance. But all the rest of us?

Think about Washoe County, Nevada the next time you take your cold or flu to the local clinic. Doctors are professionals, but they’re human, too. Often, writing a prescription is an easy way to hurry a demanding patient along.

The problem is, every time a patient takes a prescription for something that isn’t even a bacterial infection, especially if that patient takes just part of a prescription and stops when they feel better, they’re making infectious agents stronger.

Here’s Dr. Randell Todd, who was one of the co-authors of the CDC report: “Even if you’re able to talk your doctor into prescribing them, and many people are able to do that, that is not going to help your cold or the flu in any way, shape or form.”

Americans, you can argue, made their bed with the way they voted in the 2016 federal election.

With the way we have used and dispensed the most powerful array of antibiotics ever known to mankind, we might well have made our bed, too. In a far more serious way.