The Post-Antibiotic Age

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A report was recently released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the effects of antibiotic resistance — and the findings are a little scary. The report found that resistance has spread to almost every corner of the globe and that there is a very real danger of entering into what was described as a “post-antibiotic age,” where once easily treatable injuries and infections may become lethal.

The cause of this surge in antibiotic resistance is overuse. Antibiotics are often “overprescribed” for medical patients, and they are being overused in agriculture where livestock animals are being fed more and more antibiotics, developing resistance, and passing that resistance on to consumers. Without a coordinated response, this trend could spell a bleak future.


Hearing the report didn’t scare me too much, though. And here’s why. It seems that human history is really just one long chain of victory and setback against disease. We defeat bacteria, only to confront viruses. We cure one disease only to be confronted with another, new disease we don’t understand. It is always a dance, not a forward, uninterrupted march. And it didn’t scare me because I’m a Diabetian — I live with a disease every day of my life.

I think public health policy-makers and doctors ought to sit down with a group of Diabetians sometime. Nobody understands the back-and-forth, up-and-down relationship between us and disease better than we do. We live our lives with a tiger by the tail, and we know how to work with it. Not to sound too high-and-mighty here, but we could have told you this was coming. Our approach was unbalanced, overreliant on one tool. Of course it backfired on us!

No, we wouldn’t have handled it this way. We would have paid attention to the signs of trouble, both the obvious ones and the subtle ones. We do that every day. We would have had more respect for the adaptability and lack of predictability in the natural world. Look at how blood sugar moves around on us. We would have taken a look at the patterns, at the effect overuse was having on the system as a whole, and we would have thought much more deeply about how minor trends today might spiral into much bigger problems in the future.

OK, so it sounds pretty high-and-mighty. And sure, being really good at managing one disease doesn’t make you eligible to run the WHO or anything. But in all seriousness, living with diabetes really DOES give you a sense of respect for nature, and a deeper understanding of the dance humankind plays with health and sickness. And I’m grateful for that.

Who knows what the future holds with this latest health trend. I think the only thing we can be sure of is that we can’t be sure of anything. If there’s one thing nature has taught us, it’s the futility of trying too hard to bend nature to our needs. We need to get a little better at seeing the early signs of imbalance, and we need to get a little better at understanding how our decisions impact the whole system, both now and in the future. If we can do that, we might just stand a chance. My fellow Diabetians and I are available — just give us a call sometime. We’ll steer you in the right direction!

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