Today, bacterial infections like E. coli probably won't kill you, thanks to treatment with antibiotics. But some day, that might not be the case, according to a group of scientists who are now warning of a "post-antibiotic era" akin to the Dark Ages in which common infections resist these drugs -- even our last defenses.
In a new report published Wednesday in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, scientists revealed the startling discovery of a genetic mutation found in both people and livestock in China that effectively makes bacteria resistant to last-resort antibiotics, according to a report by BBC News. The researchers detected the mutation, known as the MCR-1 gene, in 20% of animals tested, 15% of meat samples, and more than a dozen people. Most worrying, however, is that the resistance had apparently spread among multiple species and strains of bacteria, such as E. coli and the bacteria that causes pneumonia, Klebsiella pneumoniae.
The researchers point to the overuse of colistin, a last-resort antibiotic, in farm animals as the suspected source of the mutation.
"All the key players are now in place to make the post-antibiotic world a reality," Timothy Walsh, a professor at the University of Cardiff who worked on the study, told the BBC. "If MRC-1 becomes global, which is a case of when not if, and the gene aligns itself with other antibiotic resistance genes, which is inevitable, then we will have very likely reached the start of the post-antibiotic era. At that point if a patient is seriously ill, say with E. coli, then there is virtually nothing you can do.”
In other words, common bacterial infections could become deadly. Even antibiotics used during surgeries and cancer treatments could be in jeopardy, per the report, which is just wonderful.
So, uh, does anyone know a good place to get a hazmat suit?
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Tony Merevick is Cities News Editor at Thrillist and is just going to start walking around in a hazmat suit at this point. Send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @tonymerevick.