The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1164: Will We Win the Race Against Emerging Superbugs?

Drugs can't kill off many emerging superbugs. How can we protect ourselves from these lethal infections? Dalbavansin holds promise.
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Will We Win the Race Against Emerging Superbugs?

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Dr. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, after observing horrific lethal infections on the battlefields of the first World War. It was the first antibiotic to defeat a wide range of terrifying diseases. Today, however, there are frequently shortages of this critical medication. In addition, penicillin and related antibiotics may not kill emerging superbugs.

Less than a century after the discovery of penicillin, many bacteria have evolved into superbugs. As a consequence, antibiotics are no longer effective in killing them. Some microbes have developed resistance to multiple drugs and can no longer be treated with medications. This year alone, drug-resistant infections will probably kill 700,000 people. By 2050, the UN estimates that as many as 10 million people will die annually from infections caused by drug-resistant microbes.

Are the Financial Incentives Misaligned?

Initially, pharmaceutical manufacturers were enthusiastic about developing new antimicrobial products. But over the last several decades, they have become much less interested in doing R&D on products that are taken only for a short term, as successful antibiotics are. Many companies would rather focus on medications that must be taken every day for years, because they get a better return on their investment. Has this contributed to the rise of the superbugs?

The Source of Emerging Superbugs:

Superbugs began to evolve by the mid-1960s. Now, pathogens like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA have become common. Doctors are working on developing a new antimicrobial drug called dalbavansin that should treat emerging superbugs successfully for a least a while.

This Week’s Guest:

Matt McCarthy, MD, is an assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical School and a staff physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Dr. McCarthy is editor-in-chief of Current Fungal Infection Reports and author of two best-selling books: Odd Man Out and The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly. His latest is Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic, to be published May 21. You can learn more at http://www.drmattmccarthy.com/books/superbugs-hc

His website is http://drmattmccarthy.com/

The photograph of Dr. McCarthy was taken by Nina Subin.

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. 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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I’d been reading about antibiotic-resistant infections for a while, but the threat seemed remote, appearing in other places around the world. It was real, but distant. Then I came down with an antibiotic-resistant UTI (urinary tract infection). I was sick for eight weeks, and took the full doses of five different antibiotics. Thankfully, Levaquin proved effective finally, but left me with some serious side effects, which took weeks to clear up. I’ve always been careful to take steps to prevent UTI’s, which have dogged me off and on over the years, but sometimes they seem to arrive out of nowhere. Now I’m trying some supplements to prevent them; let’s hope they work!

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