What’s long been posed as a question of if and when has become a present reality, according to the associate director of the Centers for Disease Control. In an interview with PBS that ran earlier this week as part of push for the new Frontline documentary on drug-resistant bacteria, Dr. Arjun Srinivasan says we’ve arrived in the post-antibiotic era.
For a long time, there have been newspaper stories and covers of magazines that talked about "The end of antibiotics, question mark?" Well, now I would say you can change the title to "The end of antibiotics, period."
We're here. We're in the post-antibiotic era. There are patients for whom we have no therapy, and we are literally in a position of having a patient in a bed who has an infection, something that five years ago even we could have treated, but now we can't.
The lengthy interview focuses largely on the use—and abuse—of antibiotics in the human context, but America’s largest consumers of these drugs, livestock, are unwittingly contributing to this growing public health risk too.
“There have been a number of studies that show that when you give antibiotics to animals, especially to animals that we then eat, there are antibiotics that get into their systems that can develop resistance,” Dr. Srinivasan says, “and then when we eat the food, we can be exposed to those resistant organisms.”
Just this week industry watchdogs made their latest call for a ban on non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animals raised for food. The oft-repeated recommendation was part of a report published by the John Hopkins Center for a Liveable Future, which also found that the influence of industrial ag and the pharmaceutical industry has on iron-grip on policy discussions—and wields outsized influence over academia and the government’s regulation and enforcement efforts.
With 30 million pounds of antibiotics sold to agriculture industry in 2011, it’s a massive market to protect.
Will government and watchdog groups be able to accomplish what proved impossible in years past now that the post-antibiotic era has arrived? Considering that the Food and Drug Administration first voiced concern over the use of antibiotics in meat production in the mid-1960s, it’s difficult to be hopeful.