TCTI: Too Crazy To Ignore
Dave Ross
antibiotics-cdc-testing_ap980.jpg
Microbiologist Tatiana Travis reads a panel to check on a bacterium's resistance to an antibiotic in an antimicrobial resistance and characterization lab within the Infectious Disease Laboratory at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Microscopic monsters

As if we didn't have enough to worry about already, the head of the Centers for Disease Control has been getting urgent memos from worried researchers.

"It's not often that top scientists at CDC come to me and say, 'We have a problem. We need you to sound the alarm,'" says CDC head Thomas Frieden.

Frieden told Vox.com that superbugs, bacteria resistant to all known antibiotics, are now responsible for one in 10 hospital infections.

"These are truly nightmare bacteria," says Frieden. "The good news is that we know how to control them."

And we can control them by not giving in to patients who insist on getting an antibiotic when they don't need one. The drugs themselves can cause fatal side effects, and they speed up the evolution of these little monsters.

"More than 23,000 deaths a year from resistant organisms and 14,000 deaths a year from an organism you get if you take antibiotics," explains Frieden.

One problem is that drug companies have no economic incentive to develop new antibiotics. Think about it: you take antibiotics for a week and you're done. That's nowhere near as profitable as blood pressure or cholesterol pills that you have to take for the rest of your life.

But developing new drugs is just a first step. "If we don't improve our system for using antibiotics, the new ones are going to be lost just as quickly as we're losing the ones we have today," he says.

And unless something changes, it would be like turning the clock back, he says. "You're back to doing things like removing parts of lungs hoping that the patient's own immune system kicks back in."

So for heavens sake, wash your hands. And then cross your fingers.

Dave Ross, KIRO Radio Morning News Anchor
Dave Ross hosts the Morning News on KIRO Radio weekdays from 5-9 a.m. Dave has won the national Edward R. Murrow Award for writing five times since he started at KIRO Radio in 1978.
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