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The global threat of untreatable infectious diseases: What you need to know

Researchers are seeing a rise in the re-emergence of diseases that were thought to have been brought under control. Most disturbingly however, is that common diseases have developed resistance to treatment as well. The ramifications of this could eventually have serious and far-reaching consequences worldwide.

Dr. Robert Kirkcaldy is an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He is also an expert on sexually transmitted diseases. Kirkcaldy really drove home the importance of not only the issue of untreatable STD's but of other quickly-emerging, treatment-resistant diseases as well.

For example, he explained that the reason mankind hasn't developed a natural resistance to gonorrhea is because the organism is highly adaptable and capable of adjusting itself accordingly, in order to defeat our body's natural defenses and so far, almost every drug treatment brought to bear against it. According to Kirkcaldy, researchers now see evidence that the disease has developed resistance to the current and last remaining method to treat it.

Some will argue that taking the proper precautions should protect you from contracting an STD. Though this is correct, the threat of untreatable STD's is still a very serious problem. However, it is only part of the issue of treatment-resistant infectious diseases and our risk of getting them. While taking the proper precautions may be a solution to contracting an untreatable STD, what about TB or typhus? How about untreatable pneumonia, e. coli or a host of other diseases that have been brought under control by the advent of antibiotics and modern treatment?

Right now, we are in danger of losing our fight against infectious diseases. This is a phenomenon not just in the U.S., but on a global scale as well. Outbreaks of infectious diseases are becoming more widespread and outbreaks of treatment-resistant diseases are becoming more of a problem with each passing day.

It is now apparent with each succession, diseases that develop resistance to treatment require increasingly more powerful and potentially toxic drugs and drug combinations to treat them. Most frighteningly, the time span between each emerging resistance grows shorter as well. Treatments that were effective for many years are now overshadowed by those whose efficacy have only lasted a few years.

Often stories of this nature are relegated to a minor headline that many overlook until there is a major outbreak of disease somewhere in the world. Subsequently, we hear the calls to action and all the media buzz that comes along with it. Nevertheless, the call is being made after the fact.

History has shown us the devastation that can result from the unchecked spread of untreatable infectious diseases. For an example we only need to look as far back as the early 20th century when Spanish influenza killed tens of millions of people worldwide in less than one year. The sheer virulence of the disease allowed it to spread with frightening rapidity. This took place before the age of modern transportation where a person can now reach virtually any destination on the globe within hours. Had this outbreak occurred in this era of rapid transportation, the result would have been devastating.

How long will it be before the grim reaper is upon us in the form of another devastating pandemic? The red flags of diseases like SARS and H1N1 have already been raised.

If we do not begin to take our healthcare issues more seriously, we may only be a very short distance away from catastrophe. We should not wait until the enemy is knocking down the walls and pouring inside the city before we sound the alarm, nor should we ignore the alarm after we have heard it.

Additional sources:

World Health Organization

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Institutes of Health

Oxford Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy