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Show 1052: The Challenge of Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs

With greater exposure to antibiotics, bacteria evolve into antibiotic-resistant superbugs. How can we keep these drugs effective against infection?
Show 1052: The Challenge of Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs
Paul Turner, PhD, chair of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University
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The Challenge of Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs

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Ever since penicillin was discovered, scientists have realized that bacteria could develop resistance to antibiotics. In the last decade or so, these fears have become more acute. Many dangerous pathogens have evolved to become resistant to multiple antibiotics. Some have become impervious to drugs that are generally reserved for last-resort use. With the common use of many antibiotics to promote animal growth and weight gain in agriculture, antibiotic-resistant microbes are showing up in all sorts of unexpected places, not just in hospitals. What can be done about these superbugs?

Why Is There Antibiotic Resistance?

Our guests describe the problem of antibiotic resistance and discuss what we as individuals can do to keep from contributing to the crisis. When is it safe for parents to hold off on giving antibiotics to a sick child? What else can we do to lower the footprint of antibiotics in the world? Renouncing routine use of antibiotics to speed the growth of livestock and poultry might be one important step.

A Novel Way to Overcome Superbugs:

One of our guests, Dr. Paul Turner, is working on ways to turn the millennia-old war between viruses and bacteria to our advantage. Phage therapy began early in the 20th century, before antibiotics were common. What contributions can it make now, when so many bacteria are evolving to show resistance to our powerful modern compounds?

For a fascinating demonstration of how bacteria develop antibiotic resistance to become superbugs, you may wish to watch this video.

Here’s a current story from the Los Angeles Times demonstrating how perplexing and serious the problem of superbugs can be.

This Week’s Guests:

Alan Greene, MD, is a pediatrician in private practice and founder of DrGreene.com, a premier site for pediatric information. He was the founding president of the Society for Participatory Medicine and is the author of Feeding Baby Green, Raising Baby Green and From First Kicks to First Steps. Dr. Greene consults with a number of online and pediatric companies, including Scanadu, Plum Organics, PanTheryx and Lighting Science. In 2010 he founded the WhiteOut Movement and in 2012 he founded TICC TOCC.

Barbara Murray, MD, is director of the Center for Emerging and Re-Emerging Pathogens and Division Director of Infectious Diseases at the University of Texas McGovern Medical School in Houston. She is the J. Ralph Meadows Professor of Medicine there and past president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Paul Turner, PhD, is a professor and the chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. His lab website is http://turnerlab.yale.edu/  Dr. Turner is also a member of the microbiology faculty at the Yale School of Medicine. He is an associate editor of the journal Evolution, Medicine and Public Health. The photograph is of Paul Turner.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free for four weeks after the date of broadcast. After that time has passed, digital downloads are available for $2.99. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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