1/16/2008

01-16-08 - 2

There's been some recent popular press on MRSA outbreaks in San Francisco and Boston. It's unfortunate that they're painting it as a "gay disease" like they did with AIDS, that makes the majority of Americans think that they aren't part of the problem. MRSA is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a horrible bacterium resistant to common antibiotics. The fact is MRSA is booming all over the US; it mainly comes from hospitals, where workers are horribly lax about proper cleanliness and hand washing. Several outbreaks have happened recently at schools around the US. Ironically parents respond by giving their kids antibiotic hand creams.

There are many drug resistant bacteria out there, but normally they would be rare. They only thrive in areas that have been cleansed of non-resistant bacteria through use of antibiotic cleansers. When the microbial population is wiped out like that, the resistant bacteria step into the empty space and thrive.

We've been pouring antibiotics into everything for the past 20 years - livestock feed, household cleansers, treatment of viral colds, etc. It's only a matter of time before this leads us to new antibiotic resistant pathogens.

What makes matters worse is that bacteria don't evolve in the same way as other species. In normal evolution, each bacterium would have to evolve drug resistance on its own. Bacteria, however, can share genes through "lateral gene transfer" (most often mediated by bacteriophages which grab snippets of bacterial DNA and take it over to other bacteria). The result is that drug resistance in one species can be transfered to a completely unrelated species. So if even one bacterium develops a certain resistance, that can spread all over the bacterial spectrum.

The media needs to stop painting this as another "gay disease" and start raising awareness of how everyone's overuse of antibiotics could bring a horrible plague upon us all.

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