Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

APUA is not a Polynesian cocktail

It's the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, and it's doing work we all need to know, and care about, a lot. Modern medical technology often gets more credit than it deserves for our increasing life spans and better health, but antibiotics are one kind of medical technology that I personally would not care to live without. Actually, I wouldn't be living without antibiotics, but that story is for another day.

It used to be that pneumonia, or a strep or staph infection, or tuberculosis, were often a death sentence, even for young, healthy people. As a matter of fact that's still true for many people in the poorest countries, but it isn't true for most of us today and we have antibiotics to thank. Unfortunately, microbes evolve, and no matter what Jerry Falwell or George W. Bush think about evolution, they are doing it right now. They are evolving immunity to the chemicals we use to kill them.

APUA, in 1998, created the Global Advisory on Antibiotic Resistance Data (GAARD), which has issued a report entitled Shadow Epidemic: The Growing Menace of Drug Resistance. They write, "The problem of resistance has insinuated itself into virtually all the infections that strike humankind." This is a global problem that threatens catastrophe for humanity. "Antimicrobial resistance is undermining every clinical and public health program designed to contain infectious diseases worldwide." The human and financial costs of this problem are already staggering, and they're just getting worse.

Why does it happen? Overuse, inappropriate prescribing, failure of patients to properly adhere to prescribed regimens and to finish the prescribed course, poor infection control in hospitals -- all of these contribute. So is marketing of all sorts of antibiotic-impregnated household products. (Don't buy any of that junk!) One of the biggest problems is the bulk feeding of antibiotics to animals so that they can be raised in crowded, unsanitary conditions. Antibiotics from animal waste are in rivers and lakes, and enter the natural food chain. But people who don't believe in evolution aren't going to respond to this problem.

Check out the link above, where you can read the GAARD report and a lot more.

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