Last August, the UN's World Health Organization issued a global alert on the dangers of drug-resistant bacteria: "Some bacteria have developed mechanisms which render them resistant to many of the antibiotics normally used for their treatment, so pose particular difficulties, as there may be few or no alternative options for therapy." Germs resistant to one or more drugs kill 100,000 US hospital patients a year and cost the healthcare system more than $34 billion, according to the Infectious Disease Society of America. This could easily rise to the millions worldwide as major bacterial pandemics emerge.
And as we reported in February, the world is also facing wave after wave of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in our food - a consequence of farmers' overuse of antibiotics for their animals, and doctors' routine prescribing of antibiotics to treat sore throats and other non-bacterial illnesses.
At first glance, it would appear that the mainstream medical solution is to treat drug-resistant bacteria with more drugs. Optimer Pharmaceuticals, for example, is in the process of developing five new antibiotics over the next three years to treat drug-resistant germs. Other biotech companies are following suit. This will solve the problem - right?
Wrong. It is almost impossible to get a new antibiotic through the FDA these days. Partly because the new antibiotics can be genuinely dangerous. Partly because the FDA is dragging its feet out of fear of making a mistake. Forbes magazine recently reported that the prohibitive cost and bureaucracy of the FDA approval process is killing innovation and new treatments, noting that the agency's "notoriety for making the approval of new drugs ever more expensive - with nothing to show in efficacy and safety - has been increasing over the years."
After Ketek, a much-hyped antibiotic from Aventis, had to be restricted because the pill caused liver damage and Congressional hearings criticized FDA officials, standards were tightened at FDA; in 2008, only one new antibiotic made the cut. In effect, the agency seems to have decided to "let people die by depriving them of new medicines [rather] than to be excoriated" for approving medications with unintended side effects."
According to Forbes:
"The FDA recently attended a meeting on the antibiotics crisis. Since then, astonishingly, the agency has implied it only would 'consider' revamping its slow and deadly approval process. No wonder Pfizer has thrown in the antibiotics towel; more companies are sure to follow."Of course antibiotics are not the only way to control drug-resistant bacteria, just the only way that the government and the drug industry is interested in. There are highly effective natural solutions without the side effects - yet they are not being developed, or even fully researched.
Grapefruit seed extract, oregano (especially oil of oregano), topically applied manuka honey (especially good against MRSA) and colloidal silver are all very potent antibacterial agents. In the case of silver, of course it is important not to take too much - like the poor fellow who turned himself blue. But it's easy to control the dose. Perhaps the medical authorities nonetheless feel that they are simply not competent to control silver's use in a hospital setting?
Viruses may actually be another solution for out-of-control bacteria. It is not widely known that viruses kill half the bacteria in the ocean every day. For each deadly bacterium, there is a virus to kill it, including the bacteria that causes MRSA. This therapy was being developed in the past but largely disappeared after the discovery of antibiotics in the 1930s. More to the point, the FDA has not done anything about it because they have no way of approving it as a drug - there is simply no thinking outside the box, except when it comes to drugs pushed by Big Pharma, of course!
And of course, there is vitamin D, which is so effective in maintaining a robust immune system. An article that appeared in Nature Medicine says that new research is showing that active analogs of vitamin D can help fight a number of diseases, including cancer and chronic kidney failure. Physicians already prescribe one such drug - calcitriol, an active form of vitamin D first synthesized in the 1970s - to treat rickets, psoriasis and vitamin D deficiencies sometimes seen with kidney disease.
Against the backdrop of these successes, one will always find naysayers like Forbes' contributor Steven Salzberg, who claims that "Pseudoscience is insinuating itself into our medical schools across the nation, going by the latest buzzword, 'integrative medicine.'"
This is actually quite hypocritical. There is very little science behind much of what is done in conventional medicine. There is plenty of science behind using silver to kill bacteria. Why else would it be applied to clothing to keep it fresh (a real misuse) and many other commercial and industrial applications. Moreover, if silver could be patented, you could be sure that the drug companies and the FDA would be all over it.
Scientists have recently proposed using silver more widely to protect drinking water in areas where it is not safe. A study has confirmed that using filter paper impregnated with silver nanoparticles kill disease-causing bacteria as they pass through it. Very little silver escapes the portable filter, which could provide an efficient source of potable water to alleviate diseases - such as cholera and giardiasis - that are associated with drinking foul water. In this case, no one is calling the idea pseudoscience. But even the best science won't get hospitals to start using silver as they obviously should be. Both the FDA and the medical societies involved should be ashamed of themselves. How many people must die before they change their minds?