Antibiotic-Resistance and the Relationship between Nature and Human Health

Zander Zhou

PureInsight | October 26, 2006

[] Recently,
there was a report by Reuters  (October 19, 2006) that said the US
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have requested
hospitals to put more effort into the fight against "superbugs," the
bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. This is because these
superbugs are imposing more and more severe threats to human health.

According to the CDC, about 90,000 people die every year due to
infections caught in the hospital. Aside from the tragedy of the
situation, there is also an economic loss to the tune of $4.5 billion.
There are many factors contributing to this situation. One reason is
that the bacteria are constantly changing and some of those changes
render the antibiotics in use no longer effective. It thus becomes very
difficult to combat the bacteria.

One example is Staphylococcus aureus, a species of bacteria often found in hospitals. In 1972, only about 2% Staphylococcus aureus
infections were from drug-resistant strains. By 2004, however, about
63% of infections were from strains that were resistant to antibiotics.
Similar situations happen with some other bacterial species. As a
result, sometimes there are no drugs available to treat infections,
since more and more bacteria are resistant to the drugs, even some
late-generation ones such as methicillin.

In fact, this situation is not just limited to US. For example, in 2004
over one thousand Brits were killed by methicillin-resistant
Staphylococcus infection.

Similar things are also observed with influenza. According to the
report by Reuters on October 19, more than 110 million doses of flu
vaccine will be available this year to prevent influenza. It is
estimated that, every year, about 200,000 Americans have to go to the
hospital for treatment because of the flu and 36,000 of them die.
Somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 people are killed by the flu
every year around the world. The influenza virus also undergoes
changes, probably at a higher rate than bacteria, rendering it
necessary to update the vaccines every year.

It is true that the various antibiotics currently in use can treat many
types of bacterial or even viral infections, and thus solve the
problems at least for a while. Nonetheless, the side effects of
vaccines and the occurrence of drug-resistant microorganisms make it a
long and unpredictable journey for the public and medical professionals
to resolve this dilemma at a fundamental level.

From this, we can also see the delicate relationship between human
beings and nature. With the development of science and technology, we
have been constantly changing the surrounding environment, which in
turn brings consequences of many kinds.

One example many of us are aware of is the unhealthy effect of fast
food, often called junk food. More and more observations are supporting
this notion, including a recent report in The New York Times
on October 17 which links drinking cola, with sugar, sugar-free, with
caffeine or decaffeinated, to decreased mineral bone density in
post-menopausal women. It seems that the more cola one drinks, the
lower bone density observed. In contrast, no such effects were observed
with other non-cola soft drinks studied.

Another example is the unusually early puberty in children, sometimes
occurring as early as the preschool or kindergarten ages. A recent
article in The New York Times
pointed out that such phenomena have been seen in many countries in the
past few decades. Numerous factors have been nominated as contributors
to this, including drugs, cosmetics, and environmental contamination.
There is also another factor that is often overlooked. That is, under
the influence of current media and social trends, children are exposed
to and then have to adapt or otherwise deal with so many things that
were formerly confined to adults. As a result, especially with the
mutual psychological and physical interactions, unexpected changes of
both body and mind are observed in children that do not match their

To combat infectious microorganisms, there are several approaches
available. One is the continual efforts to develop novel antibiotics.
This will inevitably lead to selection for changed microorganisms that
have become resistant to the new antibiotics and, as a result, the war
will continue, probably endlessly. Another approach is to make greater
use of alternative therapies, such as traditional Chinese medicine,
which work by conceptually different mechanisms. The best solution, of
course, is to enhance prevention. There are several ways that prove
effective, such as proper diet, well-planned physical exercises,
adequate rest and sleep, and various types of meditation.

If we were more respectful of nature, many social and environmental
conflicts would be less tense. In this way, we would actually be more
responsible for our own enlightened self-interest.


Step up the superbug battle, CDC tells hospitals:

U.S. to get 115 million flu vaccines this year, CDC says:

Consequences: Cola Linked to Low Bone Density in Older Women:

Preschool Puberty, and a Search for the Causes:

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