World Health Organization Warns of a Post-Antibiotic Era

When I was ten, my life was saved by antibiotics when I had pneumonia and pleurisy simultaneously. So this story has personal resonance for me.

It’s worth noting that 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States are used as a routine part of raising animals for meat, dairy, and eggs, on factory farms and other non-organic agricultural operations. That’s where the problem most urgently needs to be addressed. The private sector isn’t doing anything about it, which means it will require regulatory action at the federal level. The sooner the better.

The ‘post-antibiotic’ era is near, according to a report released today by the World Health Organization (WHO). The decreasing effectiveness of antibiotics and other antimicrobial agents is a global problem, and a surveillance system should be established to monitor it, the group says.

There is nothing hopeful in the WHO’s report, which pulls together data from 129 member states to show extensive resistance to antimicrobial agents in every region of the world. Overuse of antibiotics in agriculture — to promote livestock growth — and in hospitals quickly leads to proliferation of drug-resistant bacteria, which then spread via human travel and poor sanitation practices.

“A post-antibiotic era — in which common infections and minor injuries can kill — far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the twenty-first century,” writes Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director-general for health security, in a foreword to the report.

Perhaps the most worrying trend is the spread of resistance to carbapenems, the ‘antibiotics of last resort’, says Timothy Walsh, a medical microbiologist at Cardiff University, UK, who was an adviser for the report. “That’s taken us by surprise,” he says. “All of us are rather like rabbits in front of the headlights in how quickly this has taken off.”

 

Pesticides and the Collapse of Bee Colonies

The alarming collapse of the bee population in many areas appears to be due to a widely used class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. Should this be allowed to continue, it has the potential to wreak havoc on the world’s food supply, much of which is dependent on bees for pollination. No small thing.

At first, there had been concern that electromagnetic waves from increasingly ubiquitous cell phones might be the cause, or reduced resistance to mites or parasites, research failed to document a strong link. But with neonicotinoids, the evidence is now strong to the point of damning.

From the Harvard School of Public Health:

Two widely used neonicotinoids—a class of insecticide—appear to significantly harm honey bee colonies over the winter, particularly during colder winters, according to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The study replicated a 2012 finding from the same research group that found a link between low doses of imidacloprid and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), in which bees abandon their hives over the winter and eventually die. The new study also found that low doses of a second neonicotinoid, clothianidin, had the same negative effect.

Further, although other studies have suggested that CCD-related mortality in honey bee colonies may come from bees’ reduced resistance to mites or parasites as a result of exposure to pesticides, the new study found that bees in the hives exhibiting CCD had almost identical levels of pathogen infestation as a group of control hives, most of which survived the winter. This finding suggests that the neonicotinoids are causing some other kind of biological mechanism in bees that in turn leads to CCD.

Resveratrol: Another Assumption Called Into Question

It’s tempting to do so, but whenever we attribute large health benefits (such as prevention of heart disease) to a single nutrient, the complexity of our physiology eventually calls the assumption into question.

Resveratrol, a substance found in the skins of red grapes, has become quite famous in recent years as the purported explanation for the apparent health benefits of moderate amounts of red wine. New research indicates that this assumption may be premature, and perhaps entirely mistaken.

From WebMD:

Resveratrol — a substance found in red wine, grapes and chocolate — may not add years to your life, and it doesn’t appear to reduce the risk for heart disease or cancer either, according to new research.

“When it comes to diet, health and aging, things are not simple and probably do not boil down to one single substance, such as resveratrol,” said study lead researcher Dr. Richard Semba, a professor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

The findings also cast doubt about taking resveratrol supplements, he said.

“Perhaps it brings us back again to rather tried and true advice of diet — Mediterranean-style — and regular aerobic exercise for healthy aging,” said Semba.

The report was published May 12 in the online edition of JAMA Internal Medicine.

Red wine and chocolate have been shown to have beneficial effects on health, and these benefits were attributed largely to a single substance — resveratrol. Resveratrol has been credited as being responsible for the so-called “French paradox,” in which even a diet high in cholesterol and fat can be healthy if it is accompanied with red wine, the researchers explained