This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Will a SuperBug Get You?

For all of us born since the end of WWII, the likelihood of dying from bacterial diseases has dropped dramatically because of the widespread use of antibiotics. The news resurfaced recently that we are overdoing it on antibiotics, and even scarier news emerged yesterday with the announcement that a woman in the U.S. was attacked by a bacterial disease resistant to what health scientists call the "last antibiotic." This was obviously a big story, covered by BBC and the NYTimes, among many others.
American military researchers have identified the first patient in the United States to be infected with bacteria that are resistant to an antibiotic that was the last resort against drug-resistant germs.
The patient is well now, but the case raises the specter of superbugs that could cause untreatable infections, because the bacteria can easily transmit their resistance to other germs that are already resistant to additional antibiotics. The resistance can spread because it arises from loose genetic material that bacteria typically share with one another.
The bacteria are resistant to a drug called colistin, an old antibiotic that in the United States is held in reserve to treat especially dangerous infections that are resistant to a class of drugs called carbapenems. If carbapenem-resistant bacteria, called CRE, also pick up resistance to colistin, they will be unstoppable.
What I found particularly interesting is that the gene for resistance to colistin was first noticed just this past November in China, where it is used in pig and poultry farming--exactly the problem associated with overusing antibiotics. We can attribute this almost directly to the rise in the standard of living in China and its associated increase in demand for pork among the Chinese, as I noted a couple of months ago. 

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