24 January 2009

Of Plagues and Men

A little background:

I spent the first two weeks of October 1989 in Washington D.C. on assignment for our afternoon daily newspaper. I was doing a story on the Smithsonian Museums and, while there, catching up with my best friend Ricardo who was in the Coast Guard and stationed nearby.

About 10 years later I picked up a book called "The Hot Zone" that told of an outbreak of the always-fatal ebola virus in Washington D.C. (of all places). The outbreak occurred the first week of October in -- that's right -- 1989. As I was reading, I kept thinking that date sounded familiar. A quick consultation with my personal journal (which I have kept since February 1981) confirmed it: I was a mere 20 miles away from the outbreak at the exact time it occurred.

About 10 years later (last December) I came down with an annoying sinus and chest infection -- which is pretty standard for me. Whenever our weather turns cold and damp my allergies, asthma and bronchitis flare up, not helped at all by our "weather inversions" which cause really awful air pollution during the winter. Such infections usually clear up in a week or so. This time, it did not; so I went to the doctor, got an antibiotic and started feeling better a few days later.

Then I started feeling sick again. On New Year's Day I went to a local urgent care clinic (cheaper and quicker than an emergency room) and found out I had a really bad ear infection related to my earlier infection. Another antibiotic (that made me quite sick in itself) and another week of being sick and I finally got better.

While I was sick (nearly four weeks) I kept thinking of everything I had read about the drug resistance being developed by bacteria and viruses in our world. Too many people take antibiotics at a mere sneeze and bacteria evolve to survive it. The ebola virus is one thing; but this could be worse.

Many people, more expert on this issue than I, have warned that we would start to see the impact of these resistant bacteria and viruses: some strains of tuberculosis have evolved to resist our best antibiotics, as well as enterococcus and the now-famous Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, known as MRSA. Could I have an infection that would prove resistant to antibiotics?

Luckily for me, it appears not. However, in Friday's New York Times I read about famous Brazilian model Mariana Bridi who was very sick. She had been ravaged by some kind of infection that resulted in the amputation of her hands and feet. This morning, I found out she died -- and she was only 20 years old. It now seems that her problem was caused by a urinary tract infection of Pseudomonas aeruginosa that was resistant to antibiotics. She had been in the hospital since 03 January and now -- three weeks later -- was dead.

I really hope this is an isolated incident; but I am afraid this is just the first of many (or maybe another one of many) kinds of infections we will be hearing about in the coming few years: once common, easily treated infections becoming resistant to drugs and, therefore, fatal.

You can read about the death of Mariana Bridi here.

You can read more about Pseudomonas aeruginosa here.

You can read more about the 1989 ebola outbreak in Reston here.

You can find the book "The Hot Zone" here.

1 comment:

mineirinhanalemanha said...

I'm afraid you're right. Men did more than too much to nature, now nature seems to be paying it back...