Physicians have just found a patient in the United States of America infected with a bacterium that is resistant to every known antibiotic. Just as “natural selection” produced every species of plant and animal that we see around us, it was inevitable that “unnatural selection” would produce this superbug. This “unnatural selection” is the result of antibiotics.
How do antibiotics produce “superbugs?” Let’s say you have an E. coli pneumonia. Your doctor gives you a “broad spectrum” antibiotic. That means that the antibiotic will kill not only the E.coli causing your pneumonia, but many, many other bacteria that live harmlessly in your body.
Antibiotic use promotes development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant bacteria, far fewer in number, remain. However, these “fewer resistant bacteria” grow and multiply. Repeated and improper use of antibiotics thus gradually select against sensitive bacteria and “unnaturally” select for resistant bacteria. Eventually the resistant bacteria dominate.
After a time, and it appears that time has come, one ends up with a bacterium resistant to all antibiotics. On the evolutionary scale this was remarkably rapid. It was less than 100 years ago (1928) that Alexander Fleming, Professor of Bacteriology at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, discovered the first antibiotic, penicillin. Misuse of these important drugs has “selected” for a strain resistant to every known agent in less than a century.
While antibiotics should be used to treat bacterial infections, they are not effective against viral infections like the common cold, most sore throats, and the flu. Widespread use of antibiotics in these circumstances promotes the spread of antibiotic resistance. Smart use of antibiotics is the key to controlling the spread of resistance.
Physicians can be cited as a source for these resistant strains. US physicians have been trying very hard not to be participants. The graph below shows an absence of the United States as “consumers” of antibiotics.
But, the bad news is that it is too late. The bacterium now exists, is infecting human beings, and is only the first iteration of what will be an expanding list of resistant superbugs.
It is likely that new antibiotics will be discovered and it is likely that the new agents will be able to treat one or more of these superbugs. However, these drugs will be toxic to humans as well as bacteria. The current antibiotic of last resort, Colistin, is not a “new” drug. It has been around for many years, but was abandoned from clinical use in the 1970s because of significant renal and neurological toxicity. Only the occurrence of the new superbug has brought it back to the marketplace.
Physicians knew the day of the totally resistant superbug was coming. It was inevitable.
Bringing us back to politics from the field of medicine, there is a lesson to be learned from the folly of overuse of antibiotics. Just as physicians knew a “superbug” would emerge, economists also know that the day of default is coming. All arguments to the contrary are a useless effort at burying one’s head in the sand. It simply is not possible to continuously spend more than one earns.
Just as physicians noted increasing resistance of bacteria for many years, we are witnessing exactly the same thing in defaults. It starts small, with cities and counties, but inexorably grows:
General-Purpose Local Government Bankruptcy Filings (9):
— City of Hillview, Ky.
— City of Detroit, Mich.
— City of San Bernardino, Calif.
— Town of Mammoth Lakes, Calf.
— City of Stockton, Calif.
— Jefferson County, Ala.
— City of Harrisburg, Penn.
— City of Central Falls, R.I.
— Boise County, Idaho
Now we have a “state,” Puerto Rico, about to default. Illinois is not far behind and California cannot continue on its current course – although it will. This is stepwise evidence of exactly what happened with antibiotic resistance of bacteria.
It won’t be this year or next year and it may not come for a few decades. But come it will, and all Americans on that day will say, “why did we continue to vote for tax (sadly, they never “tax” enough) and spend Democrats?”