Is ‘Superbug’ Bacteria a Growing Epidemic?

Rachel Spinella
Features Editor

PC: Rachel Spinella

The first appearance of antibiotics was in the form of penicillin in 1928,  and was a massive breakthrough that led to the advancement in the medical world today, for treatments and cures of different bacterial diseases. The use of modern medicine all started with the discovery of synthetic antibiotics derived from dyes. Although antibiotics are used for treatment and prevention, they are not effective against viruses like the common cold or influenza. Those diseases can only be treated with antiviral drugs not antibiotics.

Before the creation of antibiotics illnesses like pneumonia or tuberculosis were untreatable and even much less curable, therefore those who contracted the disease were basically sentenced to death. Even so much as a cut could be fatal if it gets infected.

Since the invention of antibiotics, it has been a life-saver for people, as it has saved over hundreds of millions of lives. However, today these drugs seem are becoming less effective, as bacteria continues to mutate and become resistant to the antibiotics. Many scientists believe that this is due to easy access to antibiotics, and thus, overuse of the drug. Because of this carelessness,  bacteria have started to develop a resistance to antibiotics.

It has created what according to CBS News calls ‘superbugs’. These types of bacteria have become resistant to the drug that was meant to kill them. In a study that was conducted by the British government, it was estimated that by 2050, 10 million people worldwide could die each year from antibiotic resistant bacteria. A fact that CBS points out is more than people dying from cancer a year.

In an interview that was done by CBS on 60 minutes with a man named David Ricci, who talks about his trip to India that ended with him contracting a mutated bacterial infection. Ricci states that he volunteered to teach in Kolkata, India, only to be end up in an accident. An accident that had caused his leg to require amputation after it had been crushed by the wheels of a train. He had survived the amputation, only for his doctors came across a microscopic organism that could potentially kill him.

“My doctor said, ‘David, I need to tell you something really hard. You have an infection we’ve never seen before.’” Ricci said. “They’d never seen it, they didn’t-they didn’t even know how to treat it.” The infection that was growing inside Ricci’s leg was caused by bacteria that had genetically mutated, in which had altered into ‘superbugs’ that were resistant to 19 different antibiotics.

In order to save his life, in a moment of desperation his doctor had to use an antibiotic called colistin that was discovered back in the 1940s. It is effective against most Gram-negative bacilli. The antibiotic is a decades old drug that was dropped, in human favor, after finding out that it was toxic and harmed the kidneys.

When asked about the drug’s effect on Ricci he stated, “It felt like my organs were disintegrating. It’s just felt really, really, strange, something I’d never felt before, like I was dying from the inside out.” Luckily after six months, the decades old antibiotic helped fight back against the fatal ‘superbug’ bacteria. And eventually he learned to walk again.

But what about the good bacteria in our bodies? Yes, besides bad bacteria there is also good bacteria that lives in our bodies. It is to help keep infection and inflammation at bay. Could antibiotics kill  not only the bad bacteria but the good too?

According to the Science Daily, that is indeed the case. As scientists have found that the overuse of antibiotics has led to the natural defenses (good bacteria) being killed along with the bad bacteria. “What we found was that antibiotics can kill short-chain fatty acids produced by body’s own good bacteria.” Said Pushpa Pandiyan, an assistant professor of biological sciences in School of Dental Medicine. “As is the case with many infections, if you leave them alone, they will leave on their own.” She continued to say.

“Of course, antibiotics are still needed for life threatening infections. No question about that. Our bodies have many natural defenses that we shouldn’t meddle with,” However she continued and pointed out that needless overuse of antibiotics is not helpful either and shouldn’t be used if not necessary.

With that being said, is it possible that due to our overuse of antibiotics that we in a sense are harming ourselves? Not only are the use of antibiotics killing not just bad but good bacteria or that certain bacteria are mutating and becoming resistant to the drug that is supposed to kill it, but it is making us vulnerable toward infections.

Perhaps if antibiotics hadn’t been overused over the decades, could there be a chance that our good bacteria could fight against these new deadly bacteria infections?



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