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Will humans lose the battle with microbes?

Consider an all-too-common scenario: You're burning up from a high fever after a routine surgical procedure, and an infection specialist is called to help treat your problem. You assume that a short course of antibiotics will quickly turn things around. But the specialist candidly admits: "I'm sorry, I can't treat your infection. You've got a resistant bacteria, a super bug."

Any of us might hear those frightening words sooner than we think.

Antibiotics once seemed like a miracle weapon in our fight against microbes that have plagued mankind for millenniums, killing untold numbers of people with wounds and serious infections. But we're in danger of losing that weapon. Over the years, bacteria have grown increasingly resistant to these drugs. We've squandered an invaluable resource that we've overused ā€” some might say abused. The drug industry is spending too little to develop alternatives. Only a concerted effort by government, private industry and the public can avert a crisis.

The antibiotic era started less than a century ago with the discovery of the antibacterial drug sulfa. After World War II, the emergence of penicillin allowed doctors to cure a vast range of potentially crippling, if not fatal, infections of the urinary tract, the respiratory system and other parts of the body. These antibiotics did not target a specific infection site but unleashed a lethal attack on the body's trillions of bacteria. Of course, some bacteria survived. These Darwinian "fittest bugs" not only persisted but had the uncanny ability to pass on their genes, which allowed them and other bacteria to survive the next antibiotic assault.

The battle was on: humans versus the bugs.
 
 

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