Older New Jerseyans remember the "bad old days" before antibiotics. It was a time when simple infections were often fatal, even to people who'd previously been in perfect health. Antibiotics, the drugs we use today to treat infections caused by bacteria (but not infections caused by viruses), didn't exist before the 20th century. They weren't widely available until the 1940s.
We may be soon be returning to the "bad old days," because antibiotics are losing their power. Overuse of antibiotics has increased the growth of drug-resistant germs, making many antibiotics ineffective. If this happens, some aspects of life will return to the way they were before antibiotics existed.
- A simple cut of the finger could lead to a life-threatening infection.
- Common surgery, such as hip and knee replacements, would be riskier because of the danger of infection.
- Dialysis patients could develop untreatable bloodstream infections.
- Life-saving treatments that affect the immune system, such as chemotherapy and organ transplants, could potentially cause more harm than good.
How do we know this is happening? Many bacteria no longer respond to antibiotics. Infections with resistant bacteria are already happening — MRSA, pronounced "mersa," is one infamous type of resistant bacteria that has received a great deal of media coverage. These infections are becoming more common. According to the CDC, antibiotic resistance causes more than two million illnesses and 23,000 deaths every year in the U.S.