The CDC has compiled an extensive report of the top U.S. health risks from infections. Called “Threat Report 2013,” their evaluation shows that the three most worrisome risks have all been created by our own indiscriminant overuse of antibiotics. The biggest baddies:
Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae. The carbenapenem antibiotics were first developed in the 1970s and grew into wide use in the late 1980s. They had been the biggest, baddest antibiotics, ever — capable of killing just about anything. Not any more. Many gram negative bacteria have become resistant to all carbenapenems, leaving essentially no other medications available for treatment. If you’ve got a carbenapenem-resistant bug, you are in very serious trouble. They cause pneumonias, other invasive infections, and death, especially in people in hospitals.
Clostridium difficile is a tiny bacteria that can live peacefully in your gut. But if the balance of C. diff versus other bacteria is disturbed, C. diff can grow out of control, releasing toxins and causing a life-threatening colitis that can be very difficult to treat (one potential treatment is a transplant of stool from a healthy volunteer through a tube down your nose. Quite the ick factor, but it can work.) Why does C. diff get out of control? When antibiotics suppress other gut bacteria. And it may not take much — a simple, ordinary course of amoxicillin can cause fatal C. diff colitis. It’s happening, and it’s happening more and more.
Drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Gonorrhea? Seriously? This was a bug that used to die quickly if it even smelled penicillin nearby. Not any more. Resistance is rapidly spreading worldwide, and antibiotics that were reliably effective a few years ago are now worthless. Untreated gonorrhea can lead to infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, septic abortion, blindness, and other bad things you don’t even want to think about.