Could This 1,000 Year-Old Treatment Cure The Next Superbug?

In the 1930s, physicians frequently had to tell patients with terrible infections that there was little they could do for them. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, that began to change as first penicillin and then tetracycline became available. Doctors became demigods overnight, actually able to cure serious diseases they had formerly been all but helpless to treat.

But mostly because we stuff our cattle and chickens (and even farmed fish) with those same antibiotics, we are increasingly facing a scenario that takes us back to the 1930s. About 100,000 people each year actually die from antibiotic-resistant infections they acquire in a hospital. More than 2 million Americans who go to the hospital each year get more than the treatment they were hoping for — they get a serious bacterial infection. Pneumonia and sepsis alone kill about 50,000 people a year.

There are hopeful drug trials on the horizon from companies like Tetraphase Pharmaceuticals Inc. that have reported positive results in Phase 3 trials of major new antibiotics. But the FDA is likely to withhold new antibiotics like these from everyday use and allow them only in worst-case scenarios, because they fear quick resistance.

I am quite optimistic we’ll develop new antibiotics before we hit a real brick wall of resistance, and I’m encouraged by the “platform” of companies like Tetraphase, which can take any antibiotic that has met resistance and re-engineer it so that it works and yet bugs can’t defend against it.

But I’m also cognizant that humans have survived for 2 million years without antibiotics. And we constantly forget that most medicines in our history are derived from ordinary things around us like plants. Primitive cultures in places like the Amazon basin have extraordinary medicines that have worked for centuries.

Recently, the BBC reported on a 1,000-year-old folk medicine gleaned from an ancient text in England that kills some of the very worst antibiotic-resistant bacteria out there — so-called MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus.

I think you’ll find this article will amaze and amuse.

Never give up on the ingenuity of the human brain.

To a bright future,

Stephen Petranek
for The Daily Reckoning

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Stephen Petranek

Stephen Petranek’s career of over 40 years in the publishing world is marked by numerous prizes and awards for excellent writing on science, nature, technology, politics, economics and more. He has been editor-in-chief of the Miami Herald’s prestigious Sunday magazine, Tropic, and has covered a wide range of topics for Time Inc.’s Life magazine. His...

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