“No action today, no cures tomorrow” was the warning voiced by the World Health Organization in April, 2011 as they brought forth the crisis of treating bacterial infections with antibiotics in an era of antibiotic resistance. Fortunately, there is now considerable recognition that the overall problem of antibiotic resistance is a major global public problem. In September of this year the White House announced the government response to resistance and similar efforts are underway in Europe. Gonorrhea is just an example of the possibility that humankind may be exiting a “Golden Age”. Many bacterial infections acquired in the community or in the hospital are often difficult (if not impossible) to treat. From a medical perspective, the introduction of rational chemotherapy for treating bacterial infections, was perhaps the greatest medical achievement of the 20th century. On a personal note, I remember telling medical students in the early 1990s that they should have frank discussions (and listen attentively!) with older physicians who began their practice prior to the 1940s (when penicillin was first introduced) to learn what it was like to treat patients in the pre-antibiotic era since they would be the first generation of doctors in the post-antibiotic era. I fear that for some bacterial infections, this warning will become a reality if we do not act now.
- Bolan, G. A., Sparling, P.F., and Wasserheit, J.N. 2012. The emerging threat of untreatable gonococcal infection. N. Engl. J. Med. 366:485-487.