Hospital-resistant bacteria have changed the face of modern medicine (and not for the better). Due to the accumulation of resistances over many generations, hospital-resistant bacteria do not respond to conventional antibiotics. Many varieties of these bacteria have even developed resistances to “last-resort” drugs like tetracycline, which was previously administered only when more conventional, less expensive drugs had failed to treat the problem. How did this situation arise and what are medical researchers doing to stay ahead of hospital-resistant bacteria?
Officially, both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) refer to the problem as antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Tuberculosis strains, new forms of malaria, and Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) represent some of the forerunners of what could be serious epidemics for populations around the world. Drug resistance spreads especially rapidly when resistant traits can be freely exchanged by bacterial populations, so that each new bacterium matures with the genetic information necessary to resist conventional antibiotics. Over time, bacterial populations develop near-total drug resistance and can no longer be treated in conventional ways.
Unfortunately, medical researchers have thus far been unable to develop new lines of pharmaceutical drugs that are as safe, effective, and inexpensive as conventional antibiotics once were. Current research focuses on targeting the process by which genetic information is passed among bacteria and other problematic microbes. This means that rather than killing the bacteria themselves, new drug delivery methods often attempt to address the bacteria’s means of reproduction. If the harmful bacteria are kept from reaching uncontrollable populations, the risk to individual immune systems as well as interpersonal transmission rates are vastly reduced.
Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recognize the threat that hospital-resistant bacteria and similar microorganisms may generate over the coming years. While hospitals have strict protocol regarding sanitation and sterilization for surgical equipment and operating rooms, lax cleaning procedures in other areas of the hospital coupled with increased antimicrobial resistance has the potential to devastate even advanced nations. Cases of multiple drug-resistant (MDR) and extensively drug-resistant (XDR) strains of tuberculosis are on the rise in extremely dense population centers in developing nations.
The WHO and CDC are hard at work developing and implementing response protocols that are capable of slowing the transmission of hospital-resistant bacteria and related microorganisms before they have an opportunity to take root. These new response protocols include surveillance, detection, and monitoring systems to prevent poor control of new contagions as well as govern the use of antimicrobial agents in animal husbandry. Finally, both the WHO and the CDC hope to improve diagnostic tools to the point where new drug-resistant strains can be identified quickly to minimize transmission rates while they are still being diagnosed.