Scary Superbugs

Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has claimed a 2 day old healthy baby in an Ipswitch hospital in Great Britain. Staph aureus has been responsible for periodic lethal outbreaks in Canada, US and Britain over the past couple of decades. A number of Gram negative bacteria can infect deeper layers of tissue under the skin and cause necrotizing fasciitis -- in tabloid-speak "flesh eating bacteria"-- most commonly Group A streptococcus. Some Gram positive bacteria like Staph aureus can also cause this condition.

Antibiotic resistance is a global public health problem. Many individuals in the US are diligent about finishing their prescriptions. Hospitals and doctors are learning to prescribe antibiotics less, and working to promote hospital environments less conducive to bacterial proliferation.

In many developing countries however, the situation is much worse. Antibiotics are readily available as "over the counter" medicines, and are often overprescribed, especially in private clinics. They can be purchased without prescriptions for mere pennies, rupees, baht...TIt is not uncommon to meet people in developing countries who are mixing it up; taking steroids and antibiotics as well as traditional herbs or potions, in self-determined "power" cocktails. As well, there also individuals in the US who are also cavalier with antibiotics, perhaps because as a nation we take our health for granted.

People who play loose and fast with antibiotics, both in the US and in developing countries, are selfish and short-sighted about their decision. They believe that *not* following prescription guidelines affects only them; that the danger is to themselves. This is a popular misconception. Bacteria are natural inhabitants of our environment that evolve quickly to resist antibiotics. Bacteria are air and water borne (depending on the strain), not the individuals own private cultivation. The reason that antibiotic resistant bacterial infection is so prevalent in hospitals is because in this micro-environment, there are more bacteria, more potential hosts, and more antibiotics that bacteria have the opportunity to become resistant to. Similarly, with improved transportation, our world is a much more hospitable environment for the transfer of all existing microbial strains.

Therefore we are collectively responsible for our common health, and how we take medicine affects everyone's health, with is a common public good. Furthermore, research in antibiotic resistance is important to improving this specific public health threat.

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