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November 7, 2013

Doctors, Researchers Warn of Dangerous Rise of Drug-Resistant Bacteria

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The rise of drug-resistant bacteria is causing major public health concerns and prompting worries that antibiotics may soon be useless against fighting infections.

“We oftentimes think about something like antibiotic resistance as a problem that other people might have or it could happen to somebody else,” said David Hoffman, an investigative journalist who reported on this issue in a recent PBS FRONTLINE documentary. “But we as a society have a looming problem that some of these bacteria, some of the harmful ones, are becoming resistant to our last-resort, very best antibiotics.”

Antibiotics are different from other drugs in that they become less effective the more they are used. After being exposed to a certain type of antibiotic, bacteria can evolve in order to become resistant to it.

“These bacteria have had years and years of being bombarded with our antibiotics, in large measure because we overused them, because we took too many of them. But, as they evolve, they think of defense mechanisms to fight back,” explained Hoffman.

As more and more infections become resistant to antibiotics, the post-antibiotic world is becoming more of a reality; a reality Hoffman says could look very different than the world we live in today.

“You only have to look at a time when infections were dealt with automatically by surgery. There were no antibiotics,” he said. “And when antibiotics were invented and when they came along after World War II, consider what they did for modern medicine. We have sophisticated surgeries today like transplants because of antibiotics.”

“We have cancer treatments that are only successful because of antibiotics. So a post-antibiotic age won’t only mean the danger of infection, but a lot of things that we have innovated in medicine, a lot of the most important therapies won’t be available if we don’t have antibiotics.”

Warm up questions
  1. How do we become infected with bacteria? Where are the most common places to find bacteria?
  2. Can you explain why we build up resistance to bacteria?
  3. What are the most dangerous bacterial infections?
Discussion questions
  1. Can you explain why we build up resistance to bacteria?
  2. How can we alter the course we are on of using too many antibiotics?
  3. What might a world without antibiotics look like?
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