We specialize in transplant medicine at one of the best-equipped academic health facilities in the nation. Yet, despite all the technological and biological advances at our disposal, drug-resistant infections still devastate our patients.
Consider a woman in her early 40s who recently came to us in need of a lung transplant. Her breathing was diminishing rapidly. But day after day, no transplant was scheduled. This wasn’t because we couldn’t find a lung donor. Rather, we feared the drug-resistant infection in her lungs would overwhelm her weakened immune system and kill her in the wake of the surgery.
Drug-resistant microbes — like bacteria and fungi — are evolving faster than drug companies are able to develop new treatments. If policymakers don’t fund new drugs and encourage the appropriate use of antibiotics, scrapes and common ailments like diarrhea could routinely hospitalize patients. And organ transplants could prove deadly.
Antibiotics used to work almost flawlessly. Thanks in part to these drugs, Americans now live 20 years longer, on average, than they did in 1920. Antibiotics help us survive common bacterial illnesses like pneumonia and fight off infections after routine surgeries.
But the more we’ve used antibiotics, the less effective they’ve become. Every time humans or animals take these drugs, some bacteria may survive and adapt. Today, certain bacterial infections have developed resistance to nearly every antibiotic in our drug arsenal. Nearly 3 million Americans suffer from drug-resistant infections and 35,000 individuals die each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s conservative estimate. An American dies from a drug-resistant infection every few minutes.
More from the San Francisco Chronicle here.