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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.

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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).

  • David
    Thanks for your article. I recall reading about you in the past, glad you are doing well. This issue continues to be a challenge. People need to:
    * finish the total antibiotics prescribed
    * if not getting better in 3-4 days call your doctor(may not be the right antibiotic)
    * return to your doctor if they feel it is not bacterial and doesn’t need antibiotics yet- it may change to a bacterial infection later on.
    * using left over antibiotics, soon makes you resistant to that antibiotic(and or class/type).
    * when you do have a serious illness/injury you will have more antibiotics your MD to choose from. Recognize that they still maybe have significant side effects- along with the actual disease(i.e. kidney failure, liver failure, etc).

    • Addition:
      * avoid food products( meat, chicken, etc) with antibiotic use
      Also as we learn more science on the microbiology and genetics we will learn more effective treatment of superbugs.

    • Sorry, I have not only managed but also done research for more than 40 years. The advice of completing course and also hand as washing is useless. If you are not better after taken 3 doses of antibiotic ask for help. In my books I have published all the information you need. Just google my name and you will find the links to help you

  • Sad to read your comment, but know we are all at risk of developing sepsis if we get cuts, bruise or come in contact with infected individual. My books and apps will help educate you, read, learn and protect your family, friends and your life.

  • Yes, it will Start killing millions and may be every one by 2060. You must thank your company because I warned them about this threat in 2006. Since 1989, I have been warning about the threat to humanity if we allow MRSA to spread. Reducing the rate of spread and working on identifying alternative treatment could have helped.
    Your company thinking of money promoted Safety cannula and killed my innovation U-Cannula.
    Sad, our children will suffer and die.

  • Sad reading indeed. Antibiotic resistance is real. Anyone with the knowledge should be involved in the awareness to make as many people as possible worldwide. In infected wounds even the cleansing solutions contribute to resistance because of constant exposure of infecting bacteria to varying strengths of disinfectants some of which may contain antibiotics.

  • Need to know
    More about this. I have been on antibiotics for UTI for 3 months now.

    The infection resurfaces 3 days after completion of antibiotic course, yet urine tests would have suggested what antibiotic to use

    • It looks as if the doctor is not familiar with managing treatment-resistant strain. Please consult another doctor. There is no evidence to prove prolonged treatment with antibiotics has any advantages. I will call this antibiotic abuse. My article published in the Archives of Infect Diseases & Therapy, 2018; Elephant in the doctor’s room, may help educate you or watch the latest videos in youtube

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