Scary Superbugs

The article documents how, and why, we are losing the war against these powerful microbes. Hospitals and doctors have overused "last-resort" antibiotics, leading to...

This week's New Yorker has a sobering piece by Recanati professor of medicine Jerome Groopman on drug-resistant "superbugs."

The article documents how, and why, we are losing the war against these powerful microbes. Hospitals and doctors have overused "last-resort" antibiotics, leading to new microbial strains resistant even to these drugs; meanwhile, many pharmaceutical companies are no longer developing new antibiotics. "Drug companies are looking for blockbuster therapies that must be taken daily for decades," he writes. "Antibiotics are used to treat infections, and are therefore prescribed only for days or weeks," after which the patient (or the patient's insurance) stops paying, and the drug company stops making money.

Fingering medical tourism as a contributing factor—not only patients, but also the bacteria in their systems, are transported to far-flung hospitals—Groopman finds that conditions have aligned to create the perfect storm. But he also offers a glimmer of hope, outlining new avenues of research being explored by scientists at Harvard and elsewhere.

Groopman, whose most recent book is How Doctors Think, was profiled in Harvard Magazine in 2000.

The magazine covers drug-resistant bugs in the current issue's feature story on tuberculosis, and the microbial life lurking all around us in November-December 2007.

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