[FOUNTAIN]The war of the bugs

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[FOUNTAIN]The war of the bugs

Penicillin made its first public appearance in November 1942. A big fire broke out at a nightclub in Boston, and hundreds of burn victims developed infections. The patients, who would have had little hope of survival before that time, were completely cured thanks to penicillin, a new drug that a Scottish bacteriologist, Alexander Fleming, cultured from a green mold. People praised penicillin as a miracle drug.
Two years later, the American microbiologist Selman A. Waksman developed streptomycin as a treatment for tuberculosis. The antibiotic remedy liberated mankind from the fear of the disease, which had taken countless lives. In the early 1950s, an amazing discovery was made at a poultry farm. When feed mixed with streptomycin antibiotics was given to newly born chicks, they grew rapidly. The British newspaper Daily Telegraph headlined the effect as the discovery of a substance that boosted the growth of animals by 50 percent. Meat, eggs, and milk from livestock that were fed with the antibiotic emerged as immunity-enhancing food.
By then, antibiotics seemed to have won the battle against bacterial disease. But that was wrong. As bacteria were exposed to antibiotics, they resisted and adapted, and the mutated bacteria fought against the human body. Bacteria that were not affected by penicillin and streptomycin began to appear quickly.
An antibiotic works by letting a certain microorganism kill another. Humans came up with stronger antibiotics, and germs developed the survival skill to fight off antibiotics. Recently, super bacteria that can defeat any kind of existing antibiotic have appeared. The endless war between mankind and harmful microorganisms goes on.
The Seoul Administration Court ordered the Ministry of Health and Welfare to make public a list of medical institutes overprescribing antibiotics to cold patients. Common colds are a viral disease, and an antibiotic, which prevents germs from multiplying, has no effect on viruses. Excessive use of antibiotics undermines the immunity of patients; Koreans are vulnerable to the attacks of drug-resistant strains.
Without realizing it, we take unnecessary antibiotics prescribed by doctors and consume livestock and farm-raised seafood that were given antibiotic feed every day. The microbiologist Stuart Levy’s warning is chilling: The biggest threat to mankind in the 21st century is not cancer or AIDS but common bacteria that cause pneumonia or gonorrhea. The offensive of the bacteria has already begun, and mankind has little ammunition.


by Ko Dae-hoon

The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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