Colistin is the drug of last resort. It remains one of the last-resort antibiotics for multidrug-resistant bacteria infections. Now scientists in China identified a bacteria that is able to shrug off the drug of last resort in patients and livestock calling it the antibiotic apocalypse. And if you think this term comes from China, the chief medical officer for England Prof Dame Sally Davies has evoked parallels with the “apocalypse”.
Why such a title? They concluded that resistance would spread around the world and raised the spectre of untreatable infections.
And its already beginning. “My lab is seeing an increasing number of resistant strains year on year,” said Prof Neil Woodford, from the Health Protection Agency’s antimicrobial resistance unit.
Sicknesses that were commonly cured in the past will be all gone. Common infections will now kill. Simple surgery that involves cutting open the body poses massive risks of infection and certain death. Cancer therapies, which are reliant on antibiotics, would be under threat as well. The most basic operations – getting an appendix removed or a hip replacement – could become very deadly. Even normal childbirth could once again become a deadly moment in a woman’s life. It’s a future without antibiotics. Its a future back in the distant past.
And that is exactly what experts are saying. Prof Woodford said the worst case scenario would “be like the world in the 1920s and 30s”.
“You could be gardening and prick your finger on a rose bush, get a bacterial infection and go into hospital and doctors can’t do anything to save your life. You live or die based on chance.
The new mutation, dubbed the MCR-1 gene, that prevented colistin from killing bacteria.
And beside China, it has spread to Laos and Malaysia. Asia and Africa will be hit the worst where on average the death toll will be 4 million people in each continent.
Prof Timothy Walsh, who collaborated on the study, from the University of Cardiff, told the BBC News website: “All the key players are now in place to make the post-antibiotic world a reality.
“If MCR-1 becomes global, which is a case of when not if, and the gene aligns itself with other antibiotic resistance genes, which is inevitable, then we will have very likely reached the start of the post-antibiotic era.
“At that point if a patient is seriously ill, say with E. coli, then there is virtually nothing you can do.”
It is certain death.
“The transfer rate of this resistance gene is ridiculously high, that doesn’t look good,” said Prof Mark Wilcox, from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
For decades scientists argued that one day they will wipe out all disease. Wilcox now concluded that there was no single event that would mark the start of the Antibiotic Apocalypse, but it was clear he says: “we’re losing the battle”.
Prof Wilcox told the BBC News website: “Do I fear we’ll get to an untreatable organism situation? Ultimately yes. Whether that happens this year, or next year, or the year after, it’s very hard to say.”
In other words, this apocalypse is around the corner.
And once this apocalypse kicks in, the death rates are staggering. In the United States alone, there will be on average 317,000 death a year. This is one percent of the population yearly.
But besides the human life, the catastrophe will be immense on animals which will cause starvation. In the United States, 80% of antibiotics—a whopping 30 million pounds a year—are fed to poultry and livestock. The livestock industry treats antibiotics like growth hormones; a shortcut that can hasten the time to slaughter, while allowing farmers to pack more animals into overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.
Jesus referred to future plagues that will be part of the end-times scenario (Luke 21:11). The two witnesses of Revelation 11 will have power “to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want” (Revelation 11:6). Revelation 15 speaks of seven plagues wielded by seven angels as the final, most severe judgments, described in Revelation 16.