More and more infectious disease organisms are developing antibiotic resistance these days, something I've seen first hand as an antibiotic resistant strain of pneumonia was the primary cause of my Mother's death last year. So, it should come as no great surprise when we learn that sexually transmitted diseases are part of that trend, as the Atlantic reported last week in an article titled Here It Comes: Super Gonorrhea.
Did you know gonorrhea can kill you? It can, and it's also tragically effective at making women infertile. According to her journals, my great aunt Mabel was "barren," and my grandmother always told me it was probably from gonorrhea. The only reason we don't hear about these awful complications more often -- and we instead think of it as a little oops of an infection ("Can I still drink on these antibiotics?" "Yes." "Cool.") -- is because we've been able to kill it early with relative ease.The Super Gonorrhea article, written by James Hamblin, MD, is a pretty stark reminder that we currently live in the waning days of the "golden age of antibiotics", as we are commonly seeing the medicines of our grandparents and parents rendered obsolete by continually evolving bacteria.
But over the past decades, gonorrhea has been mowing down our antibiotics. If this was the Olympic 400 IM, gonorrhea would be the Ryan Lochte and our antibiotics would be the guy from Moldova.
The list of effective antibiotics has been dwindling as the bacteria became resistant, and now it's down to one. Five years ago, the CDC said fluoroquinolones were no longer effective, but oral cephalosporins were still a common/easy treatment. Now injected ceftriaxone is the only recommended effective drug we have left. And it has to be given along with either azithromycin or doxycycline.
With that said, I'm sure that my Evangelical Christian friends will see the hand of God behind this act of bacterial evolution. I mean what else can they see? It's not like they accept evolution in any of it's forms, it's purely a matter of faith to them. They will posit that promiscuity is evil and unhealthy, and this potential epidemic is a sign that God (the Trinity) is displeased with all but purely monogamous lifestyles.
I'm personally of the opinion that the onset of antibiotic resistant disease is simply a symptom of the overuse of antibiotics in our food chain. Far too many chemicals are fed to far too many livestock animals simply because the balance sheet tells a businessman that a few extra pennies per head can be garnered. Yes, there is one science that the Religious Right (which is neither truly religious nor, are they right) has faith in, the science of the balance sheet.
The vast majority of scientists agree, it's only a matter of time before disease causing bacteria learn to resist our last antibiotic lines of defense. That future is clearly envisioned in Dr. Hamblin's article:
Once gonorrhea becomes resistant to the last of our cephalosporin antibiotics -- "it's only a matter of time," according to Dr. Gail Bolan, Director of STD Prevention at the CDC in today's announcement -- we will have no treatment. Then when it gets into your bloodstream, it will be lethal.I've watched Doctors pull my Mother back from being nearly dead on a number of occasions in her life. At the end, it involved using antibiotic cocktails which brought her back even from sepsis. Those cures weren't available in your my grandmother's day, and they won't be available in your grandchildren's day either.
My paternal grandfather, like Al Capone and many other more famous individuals, died of syphilis. The bacteria got into his brain and disabled him, left him like a zombie, and finally extinguished his life. He died in a sanitarium, leaving behind a family with no means of support, the majority of his children were given up for adoption, that they might eat.
When I was younger, that always seemed like a tale from a barbaric time, that thankfully was left in the past. I'm realizing now that the past and the future may not look so different.