06/11/2011 - German officials have determined that contaminated vegetable sprouts are to blame for a massive E. coli outbreak that has killed at least 30 people and sickened thousands more.
This strain of the E. coli bacteria is new, and it is ominously resistant to nearly all antibiotics. It is true that antibiotics are not being used to treat the outbreak because these particular bacteria contain toxins that would be released as the drugs killed the bacteria. But it is also true that overuse of antibiotics created the strain in the first place.
Bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics through natural selection. As they are exposed to antibiotics, those with immunities survive and pass their resistance on to the next generation of bacteria. And if bacteria like E. coli are overexposed to antibiotics, they develop resistance to antibiotics more quickly than researchers can develop new antibiotics.
As the current epidemic illustrates, this is not a hypothetical situation. The World Health Organization estimates that in the European Union alone, more than 25,000 people die of antibiotic resistant bacterial infections each year.
It is imperative that antibiotics are used sparingly and only to treat infections; otherwise, they will lose their efficacy completely.
Read the full editorial Antibiotic Addiction on the Deseret News' Web site.