Superbugs Create Public Health Fears 08.24.12 Search

Bacteria Resistant to All Antibiotics

Washington Post

A deadly outbreak of antibiotic-resistant bacteria last year at the Clinical Research Center of the National Institutes of Health offers a fascinating and frightening window on the future of medicine. Fascinating because scientists used whole-genome sequencing to track how it spread. Frightening because the bacteria defied efforts to control it in the 234-bed hospital in Bethesda, Md.

bacteriumOn June 13, 2011, a 43-year-old patient was transferred into the intensive-care unit. She was carrying a resistant strain of the bacteria Klebsiella pneumoniae. Such infections have mortality rates upward of 50 percent. She was lucky — she recovered. By Jan. 1, there had been 17. Eleven patients died; six deaths were directly attributable to the bacteria.

To find out what happened, researchers from the National Human Genome Research Institute used sophisticated procedures to sequence, or blueprint, the whole genome of the superbug.

The sleuthing, described in a report in the journal Science Translational Medicine, is an example of how remarkable advances in genomics are changing our understanding of the biology of disease and medical conditions. The outbreak also calls attention to the deepening problem known as antimicrobial resistance, particularly in hospitals. As bacteria evolve, they develop resistance to antibiotics. The rise of antimicrobial resistance is a public-health crisis. Many first-line antibiotics are losing their efficacy, and the pipeline of new compounds is drying up. Pharmaceutical companies are leaving the market, unwilling to make the sizable investments in research and development required for new drugs.

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Editor's Note: It is hopeless to expect continued invention of ever more powerful antibiotics. This is not a war that can be won. The only hope is to return to balanced lives, organic food, and preventative medicine that enhances our immne systems.

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