Alexander Fleming’s accidental discovery of penicillin in 1928 revolutionized health care. Infections that would have previously been fatal were now easily cured. Antibiotics were seen as a catch-all cure, but their use was not properly monitored. Finally, in 1943, antibiotic resistance discovered by scientists. Seventy years later resistance is an ever-present concern due to the existence of bacteria that evolved defenses against regular medication. Because the drugs don’t work, researchers have been exploring alternative methods to take out these deadly superbugs.
Researchers have recently isolated a bacteriophage that could combat Clostridium difficile. While the technique of using a bacteria-eating virus is not novel, it is an incredible accomplishment to find a virus that can target such a harmful bacteria. C. diff is highly contagious, and causes diarrhea and inflammation of the colon which can become life-threatening.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a resistant strain of bacteria that kills more Americans per year than AIDS. It is primarily spread through hospitals. Nanosponges that are 3000 times smaller than a red blood cell are being developed to help absorb MRSA, E. coli, and other toxins in the bloodstream, with very promising results. When introduced to the bloodstream before exposure to a lethal dose of toxin, the nanosponge created an 89% chance of survival. Even when administered afterward, the survival rate was 44%, giving this little technology incredible promise. The successful tests were performed with mice, and the team will try to proceed into human clinical trials.
Sometimes antibiotic resistance can develop in less obvious ways than medication misuse or unsanitary conditions. Many people choose to wash their hands with an antibacterial soap in hopes of staying healthier. After the soap is rinsed off of the hands, it goes down the sink, to a wastewater treatment facility, and eventually back into lakes, rivers, and streams. The overexposure to all of those antibacterial products is causing these bodies of water to become populated with drug-resistant bacteria and is negatively affecting these ecosystems. Officials suggest using normal soap instead and washing hands for 20 seconds to clean hands without the harmful side effects to the environment.
Part of the reason antibiotic resistance is so prevalent is because for a long time, it was over-prescribed. Penicillin’s reputation as a cure all was taken more seriously than the fact that some disease are caused by viruses and will not respond to antibiotic treatment. Pneumonia can be either bacterial or viral, and it can take a few days to determine the cause which gives the illness time to progress. Researchers have developed a test that can determine the cause of the illness in only 12 hours, even if the particular strain is currently unknown. Getting results so quickly will help reduce needless antibiotic prescriptions which may help curb antibiotic resistance. Similar tests have been devised to determine the cause of a fever. Unfortunately, it is not quite accurate enough to be used in clinical trials.
Antibiotic resistance is a very big deal, and is not likely to go away without taking some drastic measures to ensure antibiotics are being used properly, without causing more harm with downstream effects. In the meantime, scientists will keep working diligently to find a creative solution to a deadly little problem.