Afraid of the superbug? Blame the internet

We were warned and our doctors were warned, but it only was a matter of time that reckless use of antibiotics would catch-up with us. Obviously there are many legitimate uses for antibiotics, but apparently it was one sore throat too many, or one unfinished prescription too many because the superbug is here.

A drug-resistant superbug was recently discovered in Los Angeles and another living in New Delhi’s drinking water.

The writing was on the wall, or at least your screen, with articles like this one from Reuters from 2009:

In a simple Internet search, investigators found 138 online vendors that sell antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription. More than one third supplied the drugs with no questions asked, while 64 percent made their own prescriptions after having prospective customers fill out an online health survey.

Wikipedia has a pretty image that illustrates how resistance is built by these superbugs.


Schematic representation of how antibiotic resistance evolves via natural selection. The top section represents a population of bacteria before exposure to an antibiotic. The middle section shows the population directly after exposure, the phase in which selection took place. The last section shows the distribution of resistance in a new generation of bacteria. The legend indicates the resistance levels of individuals.

Maybe IBM can save us? It’s a long-shot.

  • justin
  • Jim Shapiro

    Cool. Now maybe homeland security can use a color code to keep us afraid of micro-terrorists.

  • Jamie

    That’s pretty scary. Can’t the FBI crack down on these internet antibiotic sellers? Actually, it’s probably too late to try to do anything about them now.

    We often wait until it’s too late. No traffic light on the busy corner until after several people get killed. Loose security until after people fly airplanes into buildings…

  • Chris N.

    Jamie, the problem is that antibiotics are everywhere. It’s not just “rogue” sellers on the internet. Look at the number of liquid soaps that include anti-bacterial chemicals. That contributes to resistance build-up.

    Not to mention, as Bob said, people who don’t finish their prescriptions. Even people who finish their prescriptions may have a small number of resistant bacteria left in their system. Those genes for antibiotic resistance are bound to get out and into the general bacterial population sooner or later.

    If antibiotics weren’t misused as they are, then it would be later, and we would have more time to develop alternatives.

    Still, freaking yourself out about super-bacteria is not really productive. Just finish your prescription if you get one, and wash your hands. Those two things go a huge way to keeping infections down.

  • Jamie

    Yeah, I know all that, Chris N. It’s still scary cuz no matter how much *I* wash my hands and finish my antibiotics (I’m very conscientious about those and other good practices), I don’t have any control over what other people do.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Dearest Jamie –

    Excellent point.

    Kinda brought to mind a relationship between this and yesterday’s post on vaccinations.

    IE., not vaccinating one’s child due to the calculated risks of side effects vs the risk of contracting and passing the disease.

    Self interest vs community interest.

    Dear Chris N. –

    Thanks for making the point on not letting fear rule.

  • June Cleaver

    @ Jim-

    I am part of that population that does not get flu shots. I won’t let them stick my son either. Remember the super threat of Swine Flu? We refused to get the shots and angered a couple nurses and a doc over it.

    When those who are administering these possibly lethal injections are willing to cough up a signature on an agreement that states there will be no complications or harming side affects and that they are fully aware of the outcomes of the injections at hand, then I might consider trusting them.

    You know as well as I that they have no idea of the extent of the possibilities to the damage that these kinds of vaccinations cause.

    And by the way neither one of us caught the Swine Flu. I chalk it up to my less than perfectly tidy refrigerator and countertops.