Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Former Soviet Solution To Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem throughout the world.  Overuse of antibiotics, especially pre-emptively soaking animals in them or people badgering doctors into prescribing them antibiotics for viral infections (which cannot be treated by antibiotics) or other issues, has led to many diseases becoming resistant to more and more antibiotics.  People taking them until they feel better and then stopping is also a major problem.

Here're some links showing just how dire the situation is.

Drug-resistant "white plague" lurks among the rich and poor

Health chief warns age of safe medicine is ending

In our globalized world, foolish antibiotic policies in India have led to antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis strains in Britain. An antibiotic-resistant bacteria that gets on an airplane could well trigger another pandemic.  Tuberculosis was the 19th Century's version of AIDS--compare the musical Rent and the opera La Boheme.  I remember reading about immigrant screening at Ellis Island and how people who had tuberculosis were turned away.  Thanks to human foolishness, an older killer has undergone a not-so-glorious resurrection.

A member of my alternate-history forum whose name is Jello Biafra said in the former Soviet bloc, bacteriophages were used for decades as an alternative to antibiotics.  Basically a bacteriophage is a virus that kills bacteria.

Here's an article about how there's research into bacteriophages capable of killing MRSA, which is a very dangerous disease.

British biotech boasts antibiotic breakthrough

The article on phage therapy describes many hurdles to use of bacteriophages.  The most aggravating of these, and the one most easily dealt with, is regulatory.  The FDA is apparently very reluctant to approve such things, and given how individualized the treatment is, it might be necessary under current law for the FDA to approve each and every individual treatment.  That would be bloody absurd.

The FDA should lower the regulatory barriers to bacteriophage research.  In fact, given the lack of interest in the private sector in researching bacteriophages for various reasons, it might be prudent for the FDA to fund the research.   I generally favor small-government solutions to problems, but if there's market failure going on and the stakes are this high, it's time to be pragmatic.  An antibiotic-resistant pandemic could kill tens of millions, while fear of such could throw a wrench into the globalized economy that has helped contribute to a generally-peaceful world.

(Per my comment about Ellis Island, imagine if it became necessary to screen travelers from India for super-tuberculosis.  Heck, imagine if it became neccesary to quarantine India entirely.  That would be a very bad situation.)

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