What we lose if we lose antibiotics


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Sure, we’ll lose all of those wonderful things, but cheap beef from feed lots where miserable unhealthy cows gorge themselves on unnatural amounts of corn is a GOD GIVEN RIGHT!


One more instance of the inherent conflict between shareholder value versus long term thinking. I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive, but it seems like they are most of the time.


Universal surveillance, climate change, supergerms, plutocratic takeover… I’m really going to have to step up my immediate-gratification hedonism game, while there is still time.


Maybe we ought to forgo the cheap meat so we can have some of those other things a little bit longer.


CORN?? What are you, some kind of hippie? I demand beef that is 100% beef-fed for that double-beefy flavor. Maybe throw in a little feces for good measure.


cheap meat

Sounds like a pretty good band name to me.


I have been quietly, and minimally informedly, speculating on this for some time. It would be entirely too ironic if our period of peak medical capability ends despite increasing medical knowledge…

mmmm prions


I’m MAD for 'em!


If antibiotics no longer work, we also lose organ transplantation, cancer treatments, kidney dialysis, safe childbirth, many types of surgery, and cheap meat.

The cheap meat part seems a bit contradictory…the reason we’re losing antibiotics, in part, is because they are used to produce cheap meat.

So we either keep feeding antibiotics to livestock, in which case we increase the rate at which we lose antibiotics, and then lose cheap meat…

Or, we stop feeding the antibiotics to livestock, in which case we lose cheap meat.

So either way, cheap meat is doomed in the long run. There’s no magical fairy world where we keep feeding vast amounts of antibiotics to livestock and that doesn’t help fuel antibiotic resistance, is there?


I’ve been preparing for the post antibiotic era for a while now – my wardrobe of bubble-boy suits is now quite extensive.
This was an early prototype that got nixed right away because I often passed out from the pressure and when I woke up I was covered in stuff that was already likely resistant to most antiseptics…

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This is one of those articles that reminds you that we are quite possibly the most comfortable generation there ever has been and ever will be in human history (at least for most people reading the article). We get cheap food, cheap travel, cheap and effective medicines, someone on an average salary can still afford a car, cheap, powerful and widely available electronics… a lot off this stuff has only really been exploited for less than 100 years, and we’re already running out. While we can see the beginnings of scarcity in some cases, for most of us this hasn’t really started to bite yet. There will be new technologies that help us to live with future realities, but the life we’re living now is probably going to seem pretty easy to people in a generation or two’s time. It’s not a very novel observation, but it’s kind of scary to consider what we’re leaving to future generations through what is in many cases pretty unnecessary and wasteful consumption.


Question - I have heard for years about the misuse of antibiotics in livestock farming. How it is going to end our ability to use antibiotics etc etc. Is there some scientific stuff out there that supports this? If so, by how much?

Instinctively I am inclined to believe it, but human instincts are notoriously unreliable predictors of scientific accuracy (it seems obvious that the sun rotates around the Earth, it’s the one moving isn’t it?)

“How is it going to end our ability to use antibiotics.”

Because their widespread, indiscriminate use of antibiotics to prevent infections in feed lots leads to the bacteria rapidly developing resistance to them.

The same thing happens, to a lesser extent, when humans use antibiotics irresponsibly. e.g., buying them over the counter in Mexico and using them every time the kid has the sniffles (due to a virus, which antibiotics won’t touch), or badgering a doctor for a prescription because the nipper has an ear infection (which will go away in due course).

Or starting a properly prescribed regimen of antibiotics then stopping them because you start to feel better, or sharing the pills with the boyfriend who gave you the clap because he is ashamed to go to the clinic himself.

Here is more:

Is Wikipedia too “junk science” for you? How about John Hopkins?


Here is an animated explanation of how bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics, from the FDA:


So, yeah, this is a real problem, and it is very, very serious one.


Thanks for making every point I thought of…

There are new agents that show promise in dealing with resistant microbes (and possibly reduce the likely hood of future resistance by virtue of their mechanism of action) but they probably just push the timeline out for a post-antibiotic world.

What would be a true breakthrough is an agent that is selective for bacteria AND destructive in a manner than removes the opportunity for resistance (we do this with sterilization techniques --no opportunity for selection pressure if the agent is 100% lethal).

Anyway, long past the time when serious antibiotic restrictions should have been enacted. Even if everything the FDA has recommended was put into place today, we’d still be in a world of hurt.

So, yeah, I’m pretty concerned.

Perhaps we need to institute a mandatory hairstyle rule for all citizens of earth… All approved styles will require use of copious amounts of Aqua Net Hairspray – the ensuing destruction of the ozone layer will bathe the earth in purifying UV rays. Problem solved.

I think we can settle for that. Bacteria are not going to stop evolving, and so long as it is theoretically possible for something to survive in a habitat - which it will be if human cells can live there - there is always some chance something will adapt to it. That applies even if 100% of current bacteria don’t survive treatment, although that would certainly reduce the chances.

So I don’t think we should be looking at this in terms of developing a technology to solve our problems, and then being done with them. Rather it’s an arms race we need to keep ahead in.

Bacteria always seem to be able to find ways of avoiding being killed by substances we discover. At present we are still one step of the microorganisms, but this need not always be so... -HJ Rogers, 1966

At the time, people were working hard on discovering new antibiotics, with one class after another introduced until around 1980 or so. And that’s what made the antibiotic era; penicillin and streptomycin started losing effectiveness a while ago. But there’s really no such thing as antibiotic resistance, just resistance to the ones we have, and we were making ourselves a moving target.

In contrast there have only been one or two major classes of antibiotics introduced in the last few decades. So bacteria have caught up, faster because of foolish practices that make that easier for them, but inevitably because governments and companies have stopped taking staying ahead so seriously. Without these decades of neglect, I doubt we would be seeing these problems now.

Sure. I like the point about us as a moving target too. We should develop, release and administer antibiotics strategically to take advantage of our insights into how antibiotic resistance develops. But…

One man’s boon to humanity is another man’s business model --or political football. This, more than any scientific challenge, is what concerns me.

Honestly, what is it with you people? All I’m trying to say, is that we should maybe be a little more careful about how we use antibiotics, and stop treating it like a wonderdrug. And when I or anyone else says this, you vilify us as though we want to go back to leeching and the four humors of bile. Are you so blind in your belief in the product, that it’s impossible to imagine mis-using this valuable tool?

Oh, wait. you thought I was talking about abuse of vaccines. Fuck those guys, there is no conceivable way any of that stuff could ever possibly go wrong! (rinse, wash, repeat…)