I love a good super hero movie, even if I am not in it. I am hardly alone. "Avengers: Infinity War" is said to have earned more than $1.1 billion in just two weekends. With the fate of the planet and existence itself uncertain as never before, in this movie the Avengers unite to battle their most powerful enemy yet. As we know all too well from such movies, not all those with super powers are good. In the cinematic universe, opponents can seem unbeatable — until our heroes get back up, dust themselves off, and find a way. Such escapist fare diverts us, if only for a couple of hours in a darkened theater, from thinking about all too real threats against our planet and existence. As are other things we do not even know about, lurking out there in the darkness.
Among the very real and emerging threats you may not be aware of are superbugs. They constitute new forms of bacteria determined to not let anything get in their way to becoming untreatable.
The development of antibiotics in the early 20th century is viewed as one of the greatest leaps forward of modern medicine. With antibiotics, common illnesses like pneumonia, strep throat and social diseases like gonorrhea were no longer potential death sentences.
Yet, even with the introduction of antibiotics, it was clear to those in medical science that their potential for misuse and overuse could lead to antibiotic resistance. In this real life storyline, for decades scientists continued to warn that antibiotic resistance was on the rise because of misuse of the drugs. Seemingly oblivious to the warnings, people continued taking antibiotics such as penicillin for minor illnesses such as a sore throat or congested sinuses. Few realize how doing so might be making the world a less safe place.
Bacteria develop resistance to antibiotic drugs largely through a natural evolutionary process. As common antibiotics became less effective, doctors responded by prescribing ever-stronger medications. Because many antibiotics are available without prescriptions, many people self-medicate. Adding to the problem, a significant number of patients stop taking their antibiotics before the full course is complete, a practice that can increase the risk of developing drug resistance as possibly unnoticed residual infections establish an environment for resistant bacteria to persist. Every time a bacteria is exposed to an antibiotic but is not killed by it, it has the potential to develop resistance.
According to the World Health Organization, between the year 2000 and 2015 human consumption of antibiotics globally rose 65 percent to a staggering 42 billion doses a year. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in 2016 alone, one in three antibiotic prescriptions in the United States were unnecessary. Meanwhile, more and more bacteria continue to evolve; antibiotic resistance continues to spread.
At the same time, there was a dramatic rise in antibiotic availability and use in low-and- middle income countries. Antibiotic use more than doubled in India between the year 2000 and 2015. It was up 79 percent in China and 65 percent in Pakistan. Once resistance emerges in one place, given the availability of international travel, it can spread anywhere. New threats began to emerge.
Resistance to antibiotics has already started to threaten the everyday treatment of ordinary cuts and minor infections that most people take for granted, engineer and policy analyst Riju Agrawal recently noted in an opinion piece for foriegnpolicy.com, "If bacteria grow more resistant to the antibiotic drugs doctors use to fight them, routine aspects of modern medicine, such as hip surgeries, will soon become impossible. Treating a child's strep throat might become difficult and performing cardiac surgery or a cesarean section might become too dangerous within the next few years, returning the medical profession to the primitive era before antibiotics existed."
While this scenario may sound extreme, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 2 million Americans get infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, leading to 23,000 fatalities.
The organisms that threaten us are constantly evolving. To get ahead of them, we need new therapy options. Yet research and development for new antibiotics draws little interest from pharmaceutical companies. Their money and focus is locked in on more lucrative areas of medicine.
In a 2014 report by the World Health Organization, Keiji Fukuda of the School of Public Health of The University of Hong Kong stressed that containing this global health threat will take every tool we have. Said Fukuda, "Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods, and the implications will be devastating."
Gathering the Avengers to lend a hand — even if it were possible — would do no good in this instance. There will be no single solution in knocking out this growing crisis.
The mightiest heroes up to the task are already assembling. They come from the worlds of science and policy. From the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and elsewhere. They are moving to reduce the wasteful use of antibiotics while ramping up the search for new treatments. The last new class of commercial antibiotics was developed in the 1980s. As much as 50 percent of antibiotics worldwide may still be available without prescriptions. This has to change. We all have a stake in supporting such efforts.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.