Skip to main content

View Diary: The looming antibiotic crisis can't be solved by the free market (248 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  Drug resistant tuberculosis, one coming nightmare (8+ / 0-)

    Original recipe TB is the undisputed all-time super killer: Over a billion fatalities. Millions die EVERY YEAR from this disease.

    Like the ancient terror of plague, sometimes the disease kills quickly, sometimes not at all  - and most often slowly and horribly.

    It's not an especially contagious malady compared to viral infections like flu but it doesn't have to be, because it's everywhere.

    More than two billion people are TB carriers, a vast number enabled by rapid population growth in the Third World.  In non-HIV cases 5% become symptomatic. Of these, one in 100 will die in a given year. In HIV+ persons, 30% become symptomatic.

    The pre-antiobiotic annualized TB fatality rate is at least 10 times higher than present. In the 1800s, a whopping one quarter of ALL deaths in Europe came from TB.

    Let's put it another way: Enter drug-resistant TB, a de facto return to the untreatable era when the poet Keats sojourned in Italy and died well-versed and horribly.

    Presently, in our modern medical miracle world, MERELY 30% not 80%  are TB+. In our time, 10% tops ever become symptomatic as opposed to 30%. Overall, 1 in 100 of these persons die each opposed to 1 in 10.

    And that situation produces 1.5 million fatalities a year. Rephrase: We keep the number as low as we do because up until now, the antibiotics work.

    What if they stop working? In that case the annual number of fatalities could top 100 million a year in a world without any TB safety net.

    Let's walk this nightmare scenario back: A replacement of all TB cases with drug resistant ones, in a situation of global complete breakdown in care is an outlier. Let's cut that back, a lot, to 10 million additional deaths a year to keep talking round numbers.

    This one drug resistant malady, plus known slowdown in global fertility rates, would lead to first a stall in human population growth then gradual decline. Presumably natural resistance would arise in time, newer coping strategies and the world would go on with a smaller, scarred and smarter human population.

    Yet TB is not the only killer with drug resistant strains. And it will not take much more additional mortality, on top of emergent TB drug resistance  to generate a severe population loss event in the human population.

    Some may say: good. Such persons are probably speaking from relative affluence and imaginary safety. Like the revelers from Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death", only less fun and more unbearable.

    I happen to think human extinction would be an unqualified bad even if one's ethos is guided by maximization of nonhuman species diversity and conservation of pristine habitat.

    Because no one can fix our mess but us. And if we're all dead, no one can fix a thing. And trusting our absence to eventually clean up after us is as immoral as willfully and gleefully destroying habitat and species for its own sake.

    Because it's an easy and cowardly way out that kills just as many species and destroys just as much habitat, while feeling superior. Just like Poe's revelers.

    •  Wouldn't cause extinction. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cskendrick, tacet

      The mere fact that much smaller populations of humans co-existed with mycobacterium tuberculosis for thousands of years without antibiotics or extinction indicates that the human genome has some defenses.  I'm not saying it's GOOD or that there wouldn't be incredible suffering and losses, but alone, it wouldn't drive the entire species off the planet.

      One problem, of course, is that it spreads much more efficiently the more densely-packed the population is, which used to make it a disease of urbanism.   Another is that after a hundred years of antibiotic use, four or five generations have grown up without exposure, and large numbers who would have succumbed have repeatedly reproduced.  That leaves our populations full of individuals who would never have been born in prior eras due to lack of TB resistance, and who would succumb quickly as they lack that particular genetic trait.  It's not a pretty situation.  But look on the bright side.  We really, REALLY need to pull the plug on exploding human populations.  There are far too many of us on this planet; the life-support systems can't handle it and we've yet to find anywhere to offload some of the excess.


      •  If it were just one disease, yep. (0+ / 0-)

        If it were just drug-resistant diseases, yep.

        But it's disease. Habitat loss. War. Breakdown in supply chains supporting an advanced civilization. Depletion of key resources.

        If the population goes into collapse it might not stop at a sustainable level from the OTHER extreme.

        We might not survive the equivalent of another Taupo-level dieback.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site