Saturday, 9 August 2008

Beware! The Miniscule Ones Cometh...

I was saddened and shocked to hear of Bernie Mac's death. Saddened because although, I have not seen enough of his work to make me a fan, I remember being highly entertained by his characters in the movies, "Guess who?" and "Charlie's Angels". Shocked, because he died of complications from pneumonia at just 50, that's my father's age!

It is true that it is still not quite clear what organism; viral or bacteria was responsible for his infection. However, from my perception and experience as a medical student, I have always thought of pneumonia as a disease that kills the really young, the really old or the severly immuno-compromised. I do not know what has happened in the case of Bernie Mac, because he had also suffered from sarcoidosis, an immune system disorder (though it is said to have been in regression) but his death is a good time as any to sound the alarm; deaths from bacterial infections are steadily rising!

Medical students and doctors all have bits of their knowledge base that they bury or discard in their minds. The risk associated with smoking is the most frequently buried -many doctors are chain smokers- but that which is most frequently discarded is the very potent risk of creating an ARMY of SUPERBUGS that will not respond to any current antibiotics if we continue dispensing antibiotics to placate patients like they are throat lozenges.

Imagine that you are trying to eliminate four armed murderers who live in a town with a million innocents but instead of giving the CIA/FBI/MI5 time to figure out a tactful way to go about it, you detonate a bomb which practically wipes out all of the inhabitants of the city (kind of similar to the "plan" behind the Hiroshima bombings). This is clearly a very stupid thing to do, right? However, this is exactly what happens when an antibiotic is prescribed for every sore throat, stomach bug, or chesty cough that ails our spineless, quick-fix crazy society.

The situation is further escalated by the fact that people rarely complete their prescribed dose. Once they feel better they stop taking the antibiotics. What they don't realise is that when they do not complete the dose, a few disease causing organisms can escape and evolve a resistance gene to the antibiotic. This can happen in multiple cells and where such resistant bacteria meet and mate they can form bacteria that are resistant to multiple antibiotics. In fact, we have reached the point where there are some people with infections that do not respond to the stongest available antibiotic and have died as a result.

Bacteria both out-evolve and out-reproduce us; they WILL have the advantage in a face-off battle for survival. I am no prophet of doom but, maybe this is inevitable. The resources on earth cannot sustain the exponential human population growth for much longer; something drastic needs to occur to slow it down. Perhaps this might be it.

Disclaimer: I am not yet a doctor, so please consult your medical practitioner before going on or off any antibiotics.

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