Antimicrobial resistance could ‘undermine … care as we know it,’ a leading infectious disease doctor tells TheStreet.
Spring was just arriving in 1942 when a woman in her early 30s came down with a bad infection with a common type of bacteria: Strep. She was admitted to a hospital in Connecticut, but her illness grew worse and her shot at surviving eventually appeared hopeless. Her temperature hit nearly 107 degrees Fahrenheit as she became distraught and slipped in and out of consciousness.
Growing desperate, her doctors tried everything – commonly used medications, blood transfusions, even surgery – but nothing helped her, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention description of the patient.
There was, however, one last hope: an experimental drug known as penicillin.
Discovered by accident by a Scottish microbiologist named Sir Alexander Fleming years earlier, the drug was all the doctors had to offer. They injected the woman with the unproven medicine, and it worked. Within hours her fever disappeared, and then her other symptoms improved. The woman, Anne Miller, became the first American civilian to use the antibiotic treatment and went on to live to age 90.
While it’s hard to appreciate today the role of such a seemingly simple drug, penicillin and its development helped spur the creation of more and more life-saving antibiotics. The world saw a boom in the drugs spanning from the 1950s to the 1970s, and it changed the course of health care dramatically. The drugs diminished the dangers once posed by common bacterial infections that had plagued the U.S. and the rest of the world before the mid-1900s, when people were lucky to make it past their late 40s. Illnesses such as bacterial pneumonia and diarrhea that were previously the main causes of death in developed nations were suddenly cured within days of taking the new medicines.
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