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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 24th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Synergy saves the day against germs?

5 September 2018

For quite some time now, the mainstream media has been publishing stories which predict the rise of antibiotic-resistant organisms to such an extent that we will find ourselves defenseless.

Indeed, the evidence shows that a growing range of bacteria are now virtually immune to most of the first and second-line antibiotics which used to be an almost guaranteed silver-bullet against things such as Staph infections and other readily transmitted diseases.

Quite a few years ago, strains of TB started appearing which were completely unfazed by most of our usual friends, such as penicillin, amoxicillin and such. Treating these resistant strains called for far more exotic, expensive and powerful drugs such as Vancomycin and other "last line of defense" antibiotics.

Now, even these killer drugs are increasingly losing their potency.

MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) has become a significant problem in many hospitals as it ignores the former potency of our antibiotic arsenal and things like necrotising fasciitis can also run amok with little chance of anything but the most modern drugs slowing its progress.

So I guess we're doomed!

Well maybe not.

Whilst researchers are coming up with newer and still-effective antibiotics, the progress is slow and expensive -- which means that effective treatment could be delayed or even denied, unless you can fund it yourself.

However, there is some hope on the horizon.

If this story on ScienceDaily is to be believed, researchers have discovered some powerful and useful synergies are to be had when multiple antibiotics are used in combination against formerly drug-resistant strains.

From the article: "Some drugs attack the cell walls, others attack the DNA inside," Savage said. "It's like attacking a castle or fortress. Combining different methods of attacking may be more effective than just a single approach."

Hmmm... sounds good to me.

Even better is the fact that the researchers involved are now cobbling together some open-source software, based on the results to date, that will be available to other scientists in order to facilitate further research in this area. Hopefully it can be turned into an "expert system" to help doctors on the front-line come up with suitable combinations to fight specific strains of infection.

So it seems that the battle between us and the microscopic pathogens which seek to invade us will continue for some time to come -- with no clear victory in sight.

Personally, I shudder to think what the world would be like if we lost our last line of defense against bacterial infections. I'm sure the DailyMail would predict the end of the human race but, as we know, it would be far more likely to strengthen our DNA rather than destroy it. What doesn't kill you... as they say.

Let's face it, we already face a raft of viral pathogens for which we have no cure or vaccination and despite many of these being fatal to over 90% of people who are infected, we still survive as a species. Ebola hasn't wiped us out, nor has bird flu, SARS or the multitude of other infections against which we only have our natural immune system and luck with which to fight.

I really don't see the loss of antibiotic protection killing us off as a species... although it may significantly reduce the average lifespan and "thin" the population quite a bit.

What do readers think... what does the future hold?

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