Imagine a world where people roamed about the land in search of basic sustenance; where simple pleasures are a distant memory. Imagine a time when everything that we as a species have accomplished, has been reduced to nothing more than some scattered surviving archives and committed to the fading memories of the few still left that were around at the apex of our existence. Imagine the moment humankind enters into its final twilight; not as victors who conquered their land, but as dismal failures who neglected to heed the warning signals from our environment.
This is a familiar scene from many books and movies about some cataclysmic event that has left our world in ruins. However, many may not be aware of just how close we could actually be to just such an apocalypse.
Lately we seem to be hearing of many troubling things happening in our world. From mass animal die-offs to the re-emergence of diseases that were thought to have been brought under control. Perhaps the most disturbing of these events are common diseases like gonorrhea developing resistance to treatment. Although many people who are in monogamous relationships may not see this as a problem for them, the ramifications of this could eventually have serious and far-reaching consequences in the future for everyone.
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, their causes, and treatment. The conversation with Dr. Kirkcaldy really drove home the importance of not only the issue of untreatable STD’s but of other quickly emerging drug-resistant diseases as well.
For example, the doctor explained to me that the reason mankind hasn’t developed a natural resistance to gonorrhea is the organism is highly adaptable and is capable of adjusting its make up accordingly, to defeat our body’s natural defenses and so far almost every drug treatment brought to bear against it. According to Dr. Kirkcaldy we are beginning to see evidence that this disease is developing resistance to the current and only remaining method to cure it.
There are those who will argue that taking the proper precautions should protect you from contracting an STD. Though this is correct, it only addresses the issue for those who actually take those precautions. Even then there is still a chance of infection. In fact, the only sure way to prevent infection is abstinence.
While the threat of untreatable STD’s is a very serious problem, it is only a part of the issue of drug-resistant diseases and our risk of getting them. While abstinence 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 seem to be becoming more and more widespread and outbreaks of treatment-resistant diseases are becoming more of a problem with each passing day.
Although asteroid strikes and gamma ray bursts are certainly potential threats, completely untreatable infectious diseases are inevitably on the horizon worldwide unless more is done to prevent and treat them.
It is becoming clear with each succession, diseases that develop resistance to treatment require increasingly more powerful (and potentially toxic) drugs and drug combinations to cure 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 altogether–or at least until there is a major outbreak of a disease somewhere in the world. Subsequently, we begin to 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 almost 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 it after we have heard it.