We are starting to see the kind of incurable infection that scientists have warned us about for years. In January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that a woman in Nevada had died from an infection resistant to every available antibiotic.
The woman picked up a virulent germ from a group of microbes called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). After breaking her leg, she’d been hospitalized repeatedly over the course of several years in India. Tests showed that none of the 26 antibiotics typically used to treat the type of infection she’d developed would have cured her.
People in the United States have been infected by pan-resistant bacteria before. “It’s not the first time that there has been an untreatable bacterial infection in the US,” says James Hughes, co-director of the Emory Antibiotic Resistance Center in Atlanta. “This particular case…is an extreme example of how bad it can get.”
Thankfully, these cases are still rare. But they’re also just one piece of a much bigger problem. Antibiotic resistance is stealthily creeping closer, spreading among disease-causing bacteria, sickening people, and making life-saving drugs less effective.
“It doesn’t spread easily from person to person and terrify people to the extent that something like Ebola does,” Hughes says. But “it’s a serious problem and it’s getting worse, and we don’t have the tools that we need to fully confront it.”
So how bad is antibiotic resistance? Here’s what we know:
Read More: Popular Science
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