human skulls

Bacteria: your best friends and (the worst) enemies.

They killed millions of people. And they saved, and are saving, thousands of millions of people.
Because the worst enemy of a bacterium is another bacterium. Or a mould...

In 1928 a piece of mould fortuitously contaminated a petri dish in Alexander Fleming’s Laboratory at St Mary’s Hospital London, and he discovered that it produced a substance (penicillin) that killed the bacteria he was examining. Within 12 years Fleming and others had turned this finding into a wonder drug of its time, which could cure patients with bacterial infections. Further antibiotics were discovered and went on to revolutionise healthcare, becoming the bedrock of many of the greatest medical advances of the 20th century. Common yet frequently deadly illnesses such as pneumonia and tuberculosis (TB) could be treated effectively. A small cut no longer had the potential to be fatal if it became infected, and the dangers of routine surgery and childbirth were vastly reduced.

‘Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling a Crisis for the Health and Wealth of Nations. 2014.’

Penicillium chrysogenum, P.notatum

"Impact Factor" of antibiotics (and their absence) on human population

It is impossible to know how many lives have been saved by penicillin but it is estimated that penicillin saved 80,000,000 to 200,000,000 lives. Penicillin has saved, and is still saving, millions of people around the world. To understand what these numbers mean it's good to realize that the total casualties of the World War II were about 75 million people (Wikipedia). And this is only one antibiotic from many (a list of antibiotics here). How many lives have been saved by all of them? It is impossible to know...

"Deaths and DALYs 2004: Annex tables"
Worldwide incidence
Worldwide deaths
Bordetella pertussis,
18,387,000 254,000
Clostridium tetani 251,000 163,000
Corynebacterium diphtheriae 34,000 5,000
Haemophilus influenzae, Hib 2,000,000-3,000,000 386,000
Mycobacterium tuberculosis 7,782,000 1,464,000
Neisseria meningitidis Unknown 340,000
Streptococcus pneumoniae 14,500,000 826,000

Notice that in the table are not included many other pathogenic bacteria like Vibrio cholerae, Shigella spp., pathogenic E.coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes,..............................................

Amid of "antibiotic era" approximately 3,654,000 people died in one year on infections caused by these 7 bacteria. How many from 43,454,000 people wouldn't have survived without antibiotics and vaccination?

"But bacteria and other pathogens have always evolved so that they can resist the new drugs that medicine has used to combat them. Resistance has increasingly become a problem in recent years because the pace at which we are discovering novel antibiotics has slowed drastically, while antibiotic use is rising. And it is not just a problem confined to bacteria, but all microbes that have the potential to mutate and render our drugs ineffective.

The damaging effects of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) are already manifesting themselves across the world. Antimicrobial-resistant infections currently claim at least 50,000 lives each year across Europe and the US alone, with many hundreds of thousands more dying in other areas of the world. But reliable estimates of the true burden are scarce.

As with all infectious diseases, the speed and volume of intercontinental travel today creates new opportunities for antimicrobial-resistant pathogens to be spread globally. Such mixing of different microbes, particularly bacteria, provides them with opportunities to share their genetic material with each other, creating new resistant strains at an unprecedented pace.

antimicrobial resistance (AMR)

300 million people are expected to die prematurely because of drug resistance over the next 35 years and the world’s GDP will be 2 to 3.5% lower than it otherwise would be in 2050. This means that between now and 2050 the world can expect to lose between 60 and 100 trillion USD worth of economic output if antimicrobial drug resistance is not tackled. This is equivalent to the loss of around one year’s total global output over the period, and will create significant and widespread human suffering. Furthermore, in the nearer term we expect the world’s GDP to be 0.5% smaller by 2020 and 1.4% smaller by 2030 with more than 100 million people having died prematurely.".

‘Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling a Crisis for the Health and Wealth of Nations. 2014.’
Full article here