The Modern Hospital Doctors and the Deadly but Quiet Epidemic in America


Hospitals in America have always been place where epidemics, no matter how deadly, were treated by quiet, calm, and confident healthcare workers. These buildings are a haven for the sick and dying, all of whom are willing to subject their bodies to excruciating amounts of pain just to continue living. Serving these needy individuals are also legions of doctors, nurses and other staff members, all of whom are supposed to be dedicated to ensuring the recovery of their patients.

However even as some of those doctors leave to serve the desperate in Ebola-stricken Western Africa, they and many of their colleagues have done little to stop the spread of an epidemic in their own country which has killed far more people than the Ebolavirus and, even worse, is a plague that is almost entirely their own fault.

The pathogens that have been massacring hospital patients for over 30 years have been known to humans for almost a century. The bacteria, which is officially called Staphylococcus aureus, is mostly harmless to humans. It can exist outside of a human’s body and is often found on skin. While it did and still does cause infections once it is exposed to the human ecosystem below the epidermis, such as in the case of an open wound, it has existed alongside humanity without causing any major sicknesses, other than perhaps complicating the healing process through infections.

Another bacteria that has killed many sick and vulnerable people in hospitals is actually not a single species but a genus called Enterococcus. Ironically, the two species of Enterococcus that have killed thousands of patients are also two species with have been known to live inside of the human digestive system and are part of humanity’s microbiota: Enterococcus faecalis and Enterococcus faecium. Like Staphylococcus aureus these two bacteria are very unlikely to become pathogenic unless something causes a serious disturbance within the inner workings of the human body.

These bacteria all began as either very common pathogens which the adult human body could handle easily if infect or as bacteria that used the human gut and digestive tract as homes. They certainly are not microbes like plague or smallpox that actively infect human beings and then kill them, which have frightened humankind since they first identified them. What has made these pathogens so abhorrently deadly to humans is first explained by how scientists originally discovered a way in which humans could kill them (the bacteria) by using bacterial antagonists known as antibiotics. The second factor which has transformed the previously tame S. Aures and both species of Enterococcus into microscopic killers has been their relative ubiquity outside of the human body (S. Aureas only) and inside of It (E. Faecalis and E. Faecium)  as well as dreadful hospital conditions.

The invention of antibiotics was a momentous moment in human history. Human kind no longer had to live in fear of infections and bacterial diseases.  A simple wound no longer meant that you could end up dead from infection in a hospital somewhere three days later. Although the concept was invented by Alexander Fleming in 1928, it was not until the 1940s and 50s that their widespread use began to take off, as other companies began producing different versions of antibiotics to sell to the eager public. Soon doctors in and out of hospitals were prescribing them for all sorts of illnesses which were believed to involve bacteria, even if those infections were not all that serious or involved any bacteria at all.

Commercial interests in also began using the products to protect their livestock from the many bacterial diseases which had once held their precious living commodities from achieving peak productivity. They eventually found antibiotics that made their cattle grow faster, which made the industry even more dependent on them. These antibiotics would, over time, drain into the water and eventually be exposed to even more bacteria, which in many areas turns out horribly for the local population.

At this point any individual who as any familiarity with the concept of evolution could predict what began to happen to the bacteria (being organisms which possess extremely high biotic potential in comparison to humans) that were being massacred repeatedly by the same antibiotics: they began to adapt, and thus the antibiotic resistance strains of many bacteria were created by both doctors and business interests that cared little for public health.

Those strains, however deadly and virile, are not part of the quiet epidemic, which is the result of over 70 years of abuse and misuse of antibiotics by American doctors and the medical establishment which is found within American Hospitals nationwide. That abuse has made Staphylococcus aureus resistant to essentially all common forms of antibiotics. Medical professionals now call refer to the bacteria as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or simply MRSA. MRSA has found a home in hospitals across the country, where it is both unlikely to face extermination due to its high resistance factors and is also in close proximity to lots of individuals who are already sick, meaning that their immune systems are already compromised, making their bodies the perfect place to breed.

It has so far been extremely successful, generating death tolls ranging anywhere from 600 to 6,000, depending on the year and the source. MRSA is not the only super-bug on the loose though. After decades of being bombarded by antibiotics as they traveled through their hosts’ digestive systems, Enterococcus faecalis and Enterococcus faecium likewise developed resistances to many common antibiotics. This has allowed them to flee into other parts of the body, including the bloodstream, causing sepsis and eventually death, all due to the hospital’s lack of working antibiotics.

If humans, their doctors, and their hospitals were to continue on this of quiet path of reckless overuse of antibiotics they would not only fail to end the deadly drug-resistant bacteria epidemic in America but would most assuredly also find themselves in the “post-antibiotic world” described by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in a message concerning the issue. The announcement continued, stressing the fact that MRSA is now not only a problem in American hospitals but also a problem which affected hospitals worldwide issue.

Other developments hint at a less depressing future as well, such as the recent ruling by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which announced an end to the use of antibiotics in feed given to animals that are to be utilized as food by humans. Some, but not all, hospitals are now developing and implementing various techniques to prevent the spread of bacteria altogether, thereby eliminating the need for antibiotics in the first place.

By: Andrew Waddell

New York Times
The New England Journal of Medicine
The World Health Organization
 Los Angeles Times

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