The End of Antibiotics?

I have been avoiding the writing of this blog post because it scares me. We could lose all our effective antibiotics in the next decade. A drug-resistant bacterial strain is spreading fast and globally and as a result we could be looking at the post-antibiotic era.

An article in the Lancet reports that a new resistant gene has been isolated. Bacteria with this gene are resistant to the most powerful class of antibiotics, and the gene passes easily from one kind of bacteria to another. That means that more and more kinds of bacteria will become resistant. The resistant gene is widespread right now in India, and it’s spreading globally because of medical tourism and regular travel.


The Guardian global health blog interviewed the lead author of the paper, and provides this grim quote:

“This is potentially the end. There are no antibiotics in the pipeline that have activity against NDM 1-producing enterobacteriaceae. We have a bleak window of maybe 10 years, where we are going to have to use the antibiotics we have very wisely, but also grapple with the reality that we have nothing to treat these infections with.”

I can barely even process this. The end of antibiotics? But it’s true. We don’t have any antibiotics that are effective against this kind of resistance. And the speed with which the gene travels means that sooner or later, almost all bacteria are going to acquire this gene. That means all tuberculosis is drug resistant, pneumonia is deadly again, and neither gonorrhea nor syphilis can be cured. We have ten years to escape this trap. I don’t know if we can do it.