First isolated and produced by Chain and Florey in 1942 , penicillin was used in 1943 to save tens of thousands of lives in World War II. Tens of thousands of lives. Antibiotics are wonder drugs.
We have grown complacent of these wonder drugs, and now think of them as everyday medications.
What is worse, we think so little of them in today’s society that our main use for them is to feed them to farm animals to “promote growth and improve feed efficiency.” 75 to 80% of all antibiotics are given to farm animals. Report after report detail the problematic overuse of antibiotics in farm animals.
It has just been reported by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that thousands of tons of the antibiotic colistin are being shipped and fed to chickens in India.
What is colistin? It is considered the antibiotic of last resort for use against Enterobacteriaceae , a family of bacteria that contain organisms that we interact with every day: E. coli, Salmonella, and Klebsiella. Many of these organisms have become superbugs. A superbug is named so, not because they are super hero’s but because they have become resistant to a large number of antibiotics. So, essentially, they are super villains. These most elite of the superbug/super villains carry a small piece of DNA known as the NDM-1 plasmid (New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase-1). ANY bacteria containing this plasmid is resistant to almost all known antibiotics. With the exception of colistin. Colistin is the only antibiotic in our arsenal that can stop these superbugs.
But instead of protecting this weapon of last resort, that has to be used as a last resort to save human lives, we are feeding tons of this antibiotic to chickens in India. What happens is our antibiotic of last resort will be decoded by the bacteria encountered in the animals, and then inactivated.
I guess this is what happens when you just leave weapons laying around for anyone or any thing to misuse.
Soon, we will lose this wonder drug,bacteria will know how to inactivate it and superbugs may just end up ruling the world.
This chart from the CDC tells the story of how this happens better than I can: