Hospitals have traditionally been the most efficient locations for producing infections. The nature of the services provided and the population of sick people make the probability of infection significant. It is traditional to support most procedures with a regimen of antibiotics to avoid complications, but this has become a less than certain safeguard. An article in The Economist provides some needed background about these superbugs.
"Most people who die from MRSA succumb to the toxic shock that sets in when their immune system goes into overdrive. This is triggered by superantigens, which are powerful toxins produced by the bacteria and which activate a large number of the human immune system’s T-cells in the bloodstream. Usually only a small number of these cells are released to hunt down and destroy an infection, with more called up as reinforcements if necessary."
The insidious characteristic of these bacteria is that not everyone who is infected will receive treatment, allowing the threat of further infections to continue.
The development of antibiotic resistance seems inevitable, but the timescale for development can be speeded up by overuse of antibiotics. Consider this chart from another article in The Economist.
The greater the use of antibiotics, the more prevalent are the drug-resistant bacteria.
Sonia Shah, in her article, tells us that the emergence of a superbug is already serious in a developed country. When it occurs in a country where quality health care is not available to large fractions of the population it can be a disaster.
"Now, the emergence in India of a particularly nasty form of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which renders even the last-resort drugs obsolete, could bring about an era of unstoppable infections."
What has developed in India is not just a single form of bacteria, but the emergence of a gene that confers drug resistance on any bacteria that it manages to invade.
And what has been the effect of the emergence of this drug resistance?
India is fertile ground for evolving bacteria.
Part of the problem is a lack of investment in healthcare.
Strangely, while public sector healthcare is starved, private sector care for the wealthy thrives.
"It was in the bodies of medical tourists who had traveled to India and Pakistan that the new super-resistant gene was first discovered by British scientists in 2009."
The British were alarmed and announced that medical tourists might be at risk. How did India respond?
It would be unfair to imply that India did not try at all to respond appropriately to the threat.
If India’s politicians are unwilling or unable to take appropriate steps, surely the pharmaceutical companies are hard at work countering the threats provided by these superbugs.
A chart from the article in The Economist provides the evidence.
Drug companies don’t seem concerned; politicians don’t seem concerned—what might the future hold?