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Thursday, June 2, 2011

E. coli - We're a Victim of our own Technology

The headlines on DRUDGE are ominous:

Never seen before in outbreak...
'Highly infectious and toxic'...
Resistant to antibiotics...
Shuts down kidneys...
Destroys liver...
Now in UK, too...

They are talking about the bacteria, E. coli. Now way back in the stone ages when I was in medical school, nobody thought much about E. coli. E. coli was a prolific, harmless, natural inhabitant of everyone's gut. Back then the only thing I ever remember about it was that it occasionally caused a bladder infection, usually always in women, and it was always curable with ampicillin or a simple sulfa drug.

I don't ever remember anyone getting very sick from it. It was about this time that I remember we had an influx of new "super drugs" that bragged about killing all kinds of different bacteria in a variety of different situations. I also remember some rather catastrophic cases here and there where these new glory drugs did not perform quite as expected. Very often the bacteria that succumbed to the glory drug the first time was unaffected the second or third time. And it seemed that many of the doctors were prescribing these drugs just like pigs eating slop. At every turn, these new drugs were finding an application. Anybody and everybody seemingly got one of these new drugs.

It was about this same time that slowly but surely I noticed that our old friend the E. coli would cause a bladder infection that would not respond to the old standby of ampicillin or sulfa. I began using a cephalosporin (Keflex). That worked for a while but not so much further down the road. 

Finally everyone concluded that all the good old cheap drugs we all grew up with were suddenly useless against E. coli. So we had to move to more powerful drugs and then even more powerful drugs to get the same result.

You see, when you give a high tech, super colossal, magical antibiotic to someone for an alleged infection, the pathogenic bacteria will tend to eventually mutate to develop a resistance to the drug. Unfortunately the "normal" inhabitants of the human body, in this case E.coli, will also mutate and become more powerful and more resistant.

Now we have SUPER E.coli! They are resistant to the antibiotics we have. They secrete all kinds of powerful toxins that do bad things to our bodies. They will make you septic, and kill your kidneys and your liver and ultimately YOU! 

To be sure, E.coli are not the only bacteria that have mutated into a SUPER state. Those wicked flesh eating Strep come to mind as well as Methicillin resistant and Vancomycin resistant Staph. There are many others. 

Research continues and the drug companies continue to produce newer, more powerful, and more expensive drugs to combat these super bugs. The bugs will continue to mutate and more resistance will surely develop. It is seemingly a viscous deadly circle.

What is really sad is that many of my colleagues will continue to go about their merry way, prescribing the next new powerful antibiotic that comes out, often trying in vain to kill that stubborn virus in a 6 year old child with a cold, all the while breeding super bugs in the gut of that same child.

It's kinda scary. When will we ever learn?

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