There are many reasons why people write about the looming threat of antibiotic resistance. Academics do it to share their research. Politicians and public health experts do it to show what’s working and what isn’t. I do it because getting an infection that nearly took my life is not something I want to see happen to anyone else.

In 2011, I was a 19-year-old volunteer working with HIV/AIDS orphans in Kolkata, India. One morning on my way to the orphanage, I was hit and dragged by a train, which severely damaged my right leg. Due to the damage, doctors at a nearby clinic had to amputate the leg above the knee, without anesthetic to numb the pain.

When I returned home to Seattle a few weeks later, the wound became infected with multiple drug-resistant bacteria, including Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Morganella morganii, and Enterococcus.

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Some of these tested positive for New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase-1 (NDM-1), an enzyme that makes bacteria resistant to a class of important antibiotics known as carbapenems. First identified in a patient from India, NDM-1 is now found in scores of countries, including the United States. Bacteria resistant to carbapenem antibiotics are listed as “Urgent Threats” in the latest Antibiotic Resistance Threats Report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the months after my accident, I underwent several more surgeries, and the NDM-1 infections kept returning. Each time they did, I had to be kept in isolation. My doctors needed to use stronger “last-resort” antibiotics, such as colistin and tigecycline, which can have drastic side effects. I developed kidney failure and a severely compromised immune system.

These infections also interfered with my physical therapy. As an outdoor enthusiast, I wanted to be fully active again. But I had to restart physical therapy after each surgery, as these procedures removed more of my leg tissue, making the prosthetic harder to fit and harder to work.

As an undergraduate, I had majored in history and took only a few science courses. But my accident and the odyssey that followed inspired me to learn more about biology, especially about microbes. I have since graduated with a biology degree from the University of Washington Bothell, where I did research on multi-locus sequence typing, a technique for locating genes on a bacterial chromosome. It serves as a sort of fingerprint for identifying bacteria.

I also work with the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) on its AMR360 team, an international network of scientists, physicians, professionals, educators, and students with two main aims: developing new antibiotics and creating curricula on antimicrobial resistance for high school and undergraduate students and teachers.

Since 2003, approximately 2.5 million students, working with thousands of teachers across all 50 states and in 100 countries, have accessed Institute for Systems Biology curriculum modules via the Internet. Individuals affiliated with ISB also meet with teachers and students in their schools.

For example, I and another ISB biologist, Rachel Calder, recently traveled to a high school outside Seattle to work with its biology teachers and their students for an entire school day. Since they were using the ISB curriculum, I shared my story with the students, then asked them questions about the lesson they were working on. My colleague and I also answered questions about bacteria and antibiotics the teachers couldn’t answer.

Both teachers, who were marine biologists, said that having the opportunity to spend time with people who work with bacteria and who have expertise in antimicrobial resistance was invaluable and would help them work on these concepts with their students.

The sooner we can get teachers and students to understand the concepts of antibiotic resistance, the better our chance of maintaining proper stewardship of existing antimicrobial drugs and developing new ones.

All of us need to be aware of this threat and work to fight it. That’s why I joined the Antimicrobial Resistance Fighter Coalition, a non-commercial organization devoted to increasing awareness of antimicrobial resistance, encouraging personal responsibility to combat it, and mobilizing action across a wide range of groups interested in it or affected by it.

The CDC estimates that nearly 3 million people in the U.S. alone develop infections that are antibiotic resistant, and more than 35,000 people die from them. A British report estimated that without work to stop the spread of antimicrobial resistance, 10 million people could die from it globally each year.

I know from first-hand experience the suffering that antimicrobial resistance can cause. This threat to human health can’t be left solely to the “experts” to fix. If everyone plays a part — from not asking for unnecessary antibiotics to outright activism — we can drive action for change.

David Mateo Ricci is a biologist and activist against antibiotic resistance. The non-commercial Antimicrobial Resistance Fighter Coalition is supported by BD (Becton, Dickinson, and Company).

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  • Antibiotic resistance is pretty serious, yet like other serious health issues, nothing is being done. The average person has no idea, about their chances of developing sepsis or a strain of antibiotic resistant fungus or bacteria, when hospitalized. The weaponized For Profit healthcare system, allowed this to flourish, and allows the under reporting of hospital infections. The media has not covered this serious issue either. In fact our media turned this into another opportunity for content marketing, and lying to the public. This is a serious health topic, but of course the advertisers, marketers and propagandists, have not covered it. This should be truly terrifying!

  • How scientists decide what goes in your flu shot is one of the world’s most educated guesses. It’s worse than predicting the weather, or predicting which horse will win in a race. I cannot answer you how many years did the flu vaccination match the correct strain? but you can google and find the answer.

    I must get this message “Loud and Clear”, Bacterial infections are actually the worst ones, viruses come and go, they enter our body every time you breathe in.

    Now the people in power are warning countries to stockpile “Antibiotics”, because they have to sell them, knowing the drugs don’t work and are useless.

    The Tamiflu and Swineflu story and how the politicians and pharmaceutical companies made poor nations spend millions to buy and stock them. As scientists question whether Tamiflu is effective in the treatment of swine flu, Channel 4 News gathers stories from viewers about their experiences. The report about this conn published by the British Medical Journal made me sick. I felt as if I was a member of a legal drug cartel.

  • Yes, you get viral infections but the ones who die are because of secondary bacterial infections. We must stop using words like flu, coughs and colds as if they are the common disease. The medical profession promotes vaccination because they have to spend billions in the last 10 years to stockpile. Please ask how many years did the flu vaccination match the correct strain of virus? Staphylococcus aureus was the bacteria that killed in 1918 Spanish flu and so its bacteria that always kill.

    • Correct, bacteria are the secondary pathogen in that case, and influenza is the primary, more contagious, more dangerous pathogen.

      There is lots of frothy (at times apocalyptic, but not in this case) discussion about promoting awareness and diverting funding to MDR bacterial infections, but they pose a comparatively small problem.

      I’m curious, how many years did the flu vaccination match the correct strain?

  • Eh…
    Flu infects >30M Americans each year, kills more people than bacteria every year, spreads around the world rapidly, you don’t have to get hit by a train to catch it, and there’s essentially no treatment.

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