A new book summarising the risks of antibiotic resistance by prominent Kiwi scientist Dr Siouxsie Wiles is an excellent overview of the issue, and what you should be aware of.
Antibiotic Resistance: The End of Modern Medicine?, published by Bridget Williams Books, draws on Siouxsie’s expertise as a microbiologist to discuss the threat facing modern medicine if we lose access to some of our most important drugs: antibiotics.
We have copies of Antibiotic Resistance to give away to Sciblogs readers – find details on how to enter at the bottom of this post.
You’d only have to pay a tiny bit of attention to the news to have an inkling of why we need to focus antibiotics and their responsible use. A campylobacter outbreak in Havelock North last year, caused by a contamination in the town’s water supply; a typhoid outbreak among a church community in Auckland; KFC pledging to stop using chickens raised on antibiotics.
Earlier this year, a woman in the US was infected with a strain of Klebsiella pneumoniae resistant to 26 different antibiotics. After a month in hospital – isolated to stop her infection spreading to others – she died without any treatment fit to address her illness.
Antibiotic gold rush finished
The golden age of antibiotics heralded a resulting golden age in modern medicine. We rely on antibiotics for people having surgeries like knee and hip replacements or caesarean sections, for people undergoing chemotherapy, for dealing with infections in catheters and stomach lines in patients reliant on these tools.
But the age of finding new antibiotics like a gold rush has passed. Almost all the antibiotics we use today were discovered in the 1940s and 50s. Between the 1960s and 80s, just three new classes of antibiotics were found. More often than not, antibiotic research simply rediscovers the drugs already in use; antibiotics for which strains bacteria have already developed resistance.
The conversation around antibiotic resistance can sound like doomsday prophesying, but for good reason. So many of the things that we rely on for modern medicine are tied to being able to treat infections. It’s one thing to try to imagine returning to a time where diseases like typhoid or tuberculosis run rampant in our communities. That the diseases we wrangled into control could return to infect us once again. But on top of that to lose some of the most crucial protections for our most vulnerable – it’s difficult to imagine.
At about 100 pages, the BWB Texts serve as a primer for interested but not specialist audiences. In this case, Antibiotic Resistance will provide an excellent tutorial for those who know there’s cause for concern but need some extra background to understand why.
I thought I knew about antibiotic and antimicrobial resistance, but I still learned plenty reading Siouxsie’s book. For instance, that when kiwifruit vines were struck by a Psa (Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae) outbreak, antibiotics were used on vines. A real concern when Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a related bacteria, can cause serious infections in humans and bacteria can pass antibiotic-resistant genes to other strains.
One of Siouxsie’s particular skills as a science communicator is not leaving the interesting bits out. She gets it that we want to hear about flesh-eating bacteria, so uses them as a vehicle to inform us about crucial issues. Her fabulous story-telling made the pages fly by.
Antibiotic resistance isn’t something that might happen to us in the future. It’s happening now, as the emergence of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) shows. Your behaviour can have an impact, through good hygiene (wash your hands!) and responsible use of antibiotics. Reading Siouxsie’s book would also be a good start.
We have copies of Siouxsie’s book to give away to Sciblogs readers. As Siouxsie points out, a key step to the respectful use of antibiotics is understanding which illnesses are caused by bacteria and which are caused by other nasties. Don’t take antibiotics for a cold!
Below are four infectious diseases, each caused by either a bacteria, fungi, virus or parasite. Tell us in the comments which is which to be in to win a copy of Antibiotic Resistance
- Rheumatic fever
Antibiotic Resistance – the end of modern medicine? Siouxsie Wiles
BWB Texts, April 2017. RRP$14.99.
Featured image: Petri dish culture plate demonstrating the growth of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, Public domain, CDC/ Melissa Dankel.