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By Dr. Mercola
Believing an antibiotic will cure your illness is taken for granted by most people nowadays, but that is rapidly changing. According to the experts, the age of antibiotic drugs is coming to an end. And the implications are dire.
There are two primary reasons for this drug demise.
- First, many strains of bacteria are becoming resistant to even our strongest antibiotics and are causing deadly infections. The bacteria are evolving faster than we are.
- Secondly, drug companies have all but abandoned the development of new antibiotics because of their poor profit margins.
The fact that the drug industry is showing no interest is itself an ominous sign! Big Pharma is much more interested in selling you drugs from which they can make a handsome profit, such as those marketed for cancer, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, depression, Alzheimer's and erectile dysfunction.
Experts have been warning about the implications of antibiotic resistance for years, but never before have their warnings been so emphatic. Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, associate director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said to PBS Frontline:1
"For a long time, there have been newspaper stories and magazine articles that asked 'The end of antibiotics?' Well, now I would say you can change the title to 'The end of antibiotics, period.'"
Nature has found a way around every antibiotic we've come up with, and we're quickly running out of options. We now face the perfect storm to take us back to the pre-antibiotic age, and there is no comprehensive plan going forward. If our few remaining effective antibiotics fail, we can expect significant casualties.
Thankfully, there is a lot you can do to fend off infection naturally—and prevention is key, NOW more than ever!
Superbugs 23,000… Humans Zero
According to a landmark "Antibiotic Resistance Threat Report" published by the CDC2 earlier this year, 2 million American adults and children become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 of them die as a direct result of those infections. Even more die from complications.
According to the Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA), just one organism—methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA—kills more Americans each year than the combined total of emphysema, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, and homicide.3
This death toll is really just an estimate, and the real number is likely much higher. The true extent of superbug infections remains unknown because no one is tracking them—at least not in the US.
Hospitals here are not required to report outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, unlike in the EU where they are at least making efforts to track them. The US is in desperate need of a surveillance program for reporting and tracking this growing threat.4
What we're seeing is the evolution of bacteria. Basically, microorganisms have learned to teach each other how to outsmart the best pharmaceutical drugs we have to offer, and they are definitely winning the battle.
The 18 Most-Dangerous Pathogens of 2013
The majority of the highly dangerous bacteria are in the Gram-negative category, because that variety has body armor that makes it extremely tough. Some forms are now exhibiting "panresistance"—meaning, resistance to absolutely every antibiotic in existence. In the CDC's report "Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013," the following 18 superbugs are identified as "urgent, serious and concerning threats" to humankind:5
Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE): A family of Gram-negative bacteria that are prominent in your gut growing increasingly resistant to nearly all types of antibiotics
|Drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae: The sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea is becoming increasingly resistant to the last type of antibiotics left to treat it, having already become resistant to less potent antibiotics. Strains of the disease that are resistant to the class of antibiotic drugs called cephalosporins have appeared in several countries.
|Multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter: Appeared in the US after Iraq and Afghanistan war vets returned home. Tough enough to survive even on dry surfaces like dust particles, making it easy to pass from host to host, especially in hospital environments
|Drug-resistant Campylobacter: Campylobacter is the fourth leading cause of foodborne illness in the US. Campylobacter bacteria are unique in that they secrete an exotoxin that is similar to cholera toxin.
|Fluconazole-resistant Candida (a fungus)
|Extended spectrum beta-lactamase producing Enterobacteriaceae (ESBLs): ESBLs are enzymes produced by certain types of bacteria, which renders the bacteria resistant to the antibiotics used to treat them. ESBL-producing E. Coli, for example, are resistant to penicillins and cephalosporins, and are becoming more frequent in urinary tract infections
|Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE): Increasingly common in hospital settings
|Multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa: Linked to serious bloodstream infections and surgical wounds, can lead to pneumonia and other complications; some are resistant to nearly every family of antibiotic
|Drug-resistant Non-typhoidal Salmonella and Salmonella Typhi
|Drug-resistant Shigella: An infectious disease caused by Shigella bacteria
|Clostridium Difficile (C. Diff): Can live in the gut without causing symptoms but attacks when your immune system is weakened; C. Diff is on the rise—infections increased by 400 percent between 2000 and 2007—and is becoming increasingly antibiotic-resistant
|Methicillin-resistant and Vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA and VRSA): Gram-positive bacteria infecting about 80,000 people each year, can lead to sepsis and death. Increasing in communities, although decreasing in hospitals over the past decade; recent evidence points to factory-scale hog CAFOs as a primary source; MRSA is also a significant risk for your pets
|Drug-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae: A leading cause of pneumonia, bacteremia, sinusitis, and acute otitis media
|Drug-resistant tuberculosis: Extensively resistant TB (XDR TB) has a 40 percent mortality rate and is on the rise worldwide; tuberculosis is one of the most infectious diseases because it's so easily spread through the air when infected people cough or sneeze
|Erythromycin-resistant Group A and Clindamycin-resistant Group B Streptococcus
Armed and Extremely Dangerous: NDM-1 and KPC
NDM-1, or "New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1,'" is a bacterial gene that confers "super-resistance" to conventional antibiotics. This gene is carried by a rising number of bacteria and makes them virtually unstoppable. What makes NDM-1 such a force to be reckoned with is that it can easily be passed from one bacterium to another, like a kid sharing his lunch—turning your ordinary bacteria into superbacteria. NDM-1 has now reached 48 countries. In the US, the CDC identified 16 cases in 2012, and that number has already doubled for 2013. Another type of highly drug-resistant bacteria is KPC, or Klebsiella pneumoniae Carbapenemase (KPC)-Producing bacteria. Both KPC and NDM-1 infections are highly lethal, causing death in about half of those diagnosed.
How the Modern Food System Has Created an Unbeatable 'Army' of Superbugs
Antibiotic overuse and inappropriate use bears a heavy responsibility for creating the superbug crisis we are facing today. According to Dr. Srinivasan, as much as half of all antibiotics used in clinics and hospitals "are either unneeded or patients are getting the wrong drugs to treat their infections."
The pervasive misuse of antibiotics by the agriculture industry is particularly reprehensible. Agriculture accounts for about 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the US. 24.6 million pounds of antibiotics are administered to livestock in the US every year for purposes other than treating disease, such as making the animals grow bigger faster. In other parts of the world, such as the EU, adding antibiotics to animal feed to accelerate growth has been banned for years. The antibiotic residues in meat and dairy, as well as the resistant bacteria, are passed on to you in the foods you eat. Eighty different antibiotics are allowed in cows' milk. According to the CDC, 22 percent of antibiotic-resistant illness in humans is in fact linked to food. In the words of Dr. Srinivasan:
"The more you use an antibiotic, the more you expose a bacteria to an antibiotic, the greater the likelihood that resistance to that antibiotic is going to develop. So the more antibiotics we put into people, we put into the environment, we put into livestock, the more opportunities we create for these bacteria to become resistant."
Unfortunately, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has again reneged on its plan to withdraw approval of penicillin and tetracycline antibiotics for use in food-producing animal feed. By bowing to industry pressure, the FDA is allowing an unsafe practice to continue at the expense of your health.
Another contributing factor is the genetic engineering of our foods. As Jeffrey Smith explained at the recent GMO Summit, it's possible that GMOs from food can transfer genetic material to your normal gut bacteria, conferring antibiotic resistance and turning them into superbugs. GMOs have been scientifically proven to activate and deactivate hundreds if not thousands of genes. We have no idea about the gravity of this risk, as no one has yet studied it.
Is Tainted Meat the 'New Normal'?
Previous research suggests you have a 50/50 chance of buying meat tainted with drug-resistant bacteria when you buy meat from your local grocery store. But it may be even worse. Using data collected by the federal agency called NARMS (National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System), the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 81 percent of ground turkey, 69 percent of pork chops, 55 percent of ground beef, and 39 percent of raw chicken parts purchased in stores in 2011.
EWG nutritionist and the report's lead researcher, Dawn Undurraga, issued the following warning to the public:6
"Consumers should be very concerned that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are now common in the meat aisles of most American supermarkets... These organisms can cause foodborne illnesses and other infections. Worse, they spread antibiotic-resistance, which threatens to bring on a post-antibiotic era where important medicines critical to treating people could become ineffective."
Recalls, Recalls, and More Recalls
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You would expect this widespread contamination of the food supply to make a lot of people sick—and that is exactly what we're seeing. With so much contaminated food, it isn't surprising that food recalls are an increasingly frequent segment on the nightly news. An ongoing outbreak of "Salmonella Heidelberg" has already sickened at least 472 people this year, who consumed tainted Foster Farms chicken from three central California processing plants. People have fallen ill across 20 states, from Washington State to Puerto Rico.7 Forty-two percent have required hospitalization, which is an uncommonly high rate due to the virulence of this strain.8 Why is it so virulent?
The Salmonella bacteria cultured from the ill were found to be resistant to combinations of the following antibiotics: ampicillin, chloramphenicol, gentamicin, kanamycin, streptomycin, sulfisoxazole, and tetracycline. The CDC warned, "Antimicrobial resistance may increase the risk of hospitalization or possible treatment failure in infected individuals."9
Big Pharma Is Washing Its Hands of the Crisis It Helped to Create
The drug industry has all but abandoned antibiotics research because these "wonder drugs" of the last half-century are becoming ineffective—and Big Pharma knows it. The "antibiotic bubble" has burst.10 According to Paul Stoffels, head of Johnson & Johnson:10
"The market for a new antibiotic is very small, the rewards are not there and so the capital is not flowing. In cancer, people pay $30,000, $50,000 or $80,000 (per patient) for a drug, but for an antibiotic it is likely to be only a few hundred dollars."
Developing a new drug can take a decade of clinical trials and reportedly cost between $800 million to one billion dollars.11 Not only are antibiotics relatively inexpensive for you, but you are only required to take one for a week or two, which limits profits for the manufacturer. Why put money into a cheap drug that is only taken for a couple of weeks when they can focus their efforts on expensive drugs that people will believe they need to take for the rest of their lives? I guess, for the drug industry, antibiotics now fall into the "Why Bother" category.
Rather than being guided by improved patient outcomes, the industry is wholly guided by its endless quest for profits. According to the ISDA, the number of new systemic antibiotics approved by the FDA has plunged from 16 between 1983 and 1987 to JUST TWO in the past five years. Only four pharmaceutical companies are still working on developing new antibiotics. In terms of fighting gram-negative superbugs, there were only seven antibiotics in an advanced stage of development as of early 2013—and one belongs to a drug company that recently filed for bankruptcy.
Visions of a Post Antibiotic-Apocalypse
Medicine has very few options when the antibiotic pipeline completely dries up. Hospitals are already resorting to some very unsavory treatments, resurrecting old drugs that were abandoned for good reasons.
For example, they have resurrected a toxic bug-killing chemical called Colistin12 (first introduced in 1952 and known to cause kidney damage) as a last-ditch effort to treat multidrug-resistant Gram-negative infections. Then there is the strategy of cutting off (or cutting out) the infected body part, which sometimes has to be performed several times, a few inches at a time as the infection migrates further into the patient's body.
The bottom line is, if ALL antibiotics fail, it will in effect mark an end to modern medicine as we know it—and we are quickly heading in that direction.
Common illnesses such as bronchitis or strep throat may turn into deadly sepsis. Surgeries previously considered low risk or "routine," such as hip replacements, might suddenly be too risky without antibiotics. And complex surgeries like organ transplants would essentially not be survivable.
So What's the Solution?
The impending superbug crisis has a three-prong solution:
- Better infection prevention, with a focus on strengthening your immune system naturally
- More responsible use of antibiotics for people and animals, with a return to biodynamic farming and a complete overhaul of our food system
- Innovative new approaches to the treatment of infections from all branches of science, natural as well as allopathic
There are some promising new avenues of study that may result in fresh ways to fight superbugs. For example, Dutch scientists have discovered a way to deactivate antibiotics with a blast of ultraviolet light before bacteria have a chance to adapt, and before the antibiotics can damage your good bacteria.13
And British scientists have discovered how bacteria talk to each other through "quorum signaling" and are investigating ways of disrupting this process in order to render them incapable of causing an infection. They believe this may lead to a new line of anti-infectives that do not kill bacteria, but instead block their ability to cause disease.14 But the basic strategy that you have at your disposal right now is prevention, prevention, prevention—it's much easier to prevent an infection than to halt one already in progress.
Avoiding antibiotic-resistance is but one of several good reasons to avoid meats and animal products from animals raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). This is in part why grass-fed pastured meat is the ONLY type of meat I recommend. If you're regularly eating meat bought at your local grocery store, know that you're in all likelihood getting a low dose of antibiotics with every meal... and this low-dose exposure is what's allowing bacteria to adapt and develop such strong resistance.
What You Can Do Now
Fortunately, Mother Nature gives us a cornucopia of botanicals that put antibiotic drugs to shame in the battle against pathogenic microbes. Natural compounds with antimicrobial activity such as garlic, cinnamon, oregano extract, colloidal silver, Manuka honey, probiotics and fermented foods, echinacea, sunlight and vitamin D are all excellent options to try before resorting to drugs. Best of all, research has shown that bacteria do not tend to develop resistance to these types of treatments. Perhaps nature is smarter than most would like to think.
The basic key to keeping your immune system healthy is making good lifestyle choices such as proper diet, stress management and exercise.
Remember, opt for clean, whole foods (animal and plant based), organically raised without antibiotics and preferably locally sourced. Antibiotics simply aren't needed when healthy animals are raised properly. One chicken farmer has demonstrated that even large-scale animal farms can manage without routine administration of antibiotic drugs by using an herbal remedy of oregano oil and cinnamon instead!
By taking control of your own health and building a strong immune system, you'll minimize your risk of acquiring an antibiotic-resistant infection.