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Show 1250: Antimicrobial Resistant Infections Could Be the Next Pandemic

Overuse of drugs, especially for food production, has led to antimicrobial resistant infections. These could become a huge challenge.
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Antimicrobial Resistant Infections Could Be the Next Pandemic

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Everyone is weary of the coronavirus pandemic and ready to be done with it. So the news that a new pandemic is already slowly unfolding is unwelcome. But unless we pay attention and do what we can to reverse the growing trend of antimicrobial resistant infections, they could end up causing even more death and disability than COVID-19.

Antimicrobial Resistant Infections:

Ever since the middle of the 20th century, when penicillin and later antibiotics were introduced, doctors have been able to cure most infections that would have been life-threatening a century earlier. Viruses are something of an exception, because antivirals weren’t developed until much later. We still have no effective compounds against many viruses. But public health experts are warning that too many pathogens have developed resistance to the medicines that used to knock them out. Sometimes even the drugs of last resort don’t work. How big is the problem?

What Can We Do About Antimicrobial Resistant Infections?

Part of the reason that pathogens have evolved to resist even new antibiotics and antifungal drugs is overexposure. Using them too frequently contributes to the problem. Eventually, doctors may end up trying to treat antimicrobial resistant infections that don’t respond to any medication.

However, prescriptions for people are not the whole problem. Even more alarming, too many of these antimicrobial compounds are being used in agriculture and aquaculture. The pork industry routinely uses nearly as much antibiotic as human medicine does. This kind of exposure offers bacteria the perfect opportunity to evolve. Can we reduce our reliance on drugs in food production? Dr. Marty Makary offers some straightforward steps each of us can take to combat the problem, as well as larger-scale changes that can make a difference.

Other Possible Sources of the Next Pandemic:

No one will dispute the need for close attention to antimicrobial resistant infections. However, there may also be other concerns. Now that we are (finally) gradually emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials are preparing for the next global health threat.

Data being presented at the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Barcelona, Spain, on April 27, 2024, rates influenza as the most likely pathogen to trigger the next pandemic. Less likely contenders include an as yet unidentified pathogen called Disease X along with SARS-like viruses. Hemorrhagic fever, ebola virus, Nipah virus, Hanta virus and Rift Valley Fever virus are also potential problems.

Influenza as the Next Pandemic:

But the experts have ranked influenza by far and away as their biggest worry (Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, Jan-Feb. 2024). That’s because the influenza virus is constantly mutating and circulating around the globe. Some experts that we have little to be worried about since scientists learned so much from the COVID-19 pandemic. Others, however, point out that people have gone back to their old bad habits, coughing into their hands and then shaking hands with others. Mask wearing has disappeared and is unlikely to make much of a comeback anytime soon.

Medical Errors and Transparency:

We also turn to Dr. Makary to discuss the topic of his first book, Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care. The zone of silence surrounding medical errors has prevented as much progress being made on this front as you might expect. Dr. Makary shocked his colleagues several years ago when he published an analysis in the BMJ demonstrating that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the US. How can that be changed?

This Week’s Guest:

Marty Makary, MD, MPH, is a surgical oncologist, a New York Times bestselling author and a leading voice for transparency in health care. He is the recipient of the 2020 Business Book of the Year Award for The Price We Pay. A professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, he has published over 250 scientific articles on the re-design of health care.

He has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine and is Editor-in-Chief of Medpage Today. Dr. Makary has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today and is a frequent medical commentator on Fox News. His current research focuses on the underlying causes of disease, which is why we are discussing antimicrobial resistant infections. He is also investigating vulnerable populations and relationship-based medicine.

The website he mentioned is www.restoringmedicine.org

The photo of Dr. Marty Makary is courtesy of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available Monday, March 15, 2021, after broadcast on March 13. You can stream the show from this site or download the podcast for free.

Download the free mp3

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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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  • Salmanton-García J et al, "Predicting the next pandemic: VACCELERATE ranking of the World Health Organization's Blueprint for Action to Prevent Epidemics." Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, Jan-Feb. 2024. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tmaid.2023.102676
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