Afternoon InquisitionScience

AI: A Bed We Made?

Well, so I have been away for a while, and haven’t had a chance to post much. Not that I was on a blistering pace to begin with, but I’ve been extra absent the last few weeks. In fact, some of the new contributors didn’t even know there was a dude on the roster. When I walked back into Skepchick HQ yesterday, they thought I was there to unclog the sink.

But it is good to be back. I actually missed you guys (a little bit).

Seriously though, I hope to be around here more often. So let’s get this party started with a good Afternoon Inquisition.

A gene that causes a wide range of bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics has been found in the water supply in Delhi. The gene, known as NDM-1, is widespread in the water used for cooking, washing and drinking, and can cause many types of bacteria – including E coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae – to become resistant to powerful, last resort antibiotics. The potential for NDM-1 positive bacteria to spread around the world is high.

Thoughts? Is this issue overblown by the media? Nothing to panic about? Have we done this to ourselves? Are we at a critical point where antibiotic resistance is reaching irreversable levels? Do you see antibiotics being overused? There are now superbugs that do not respond to any drug. Given the growth of travel and trade in Europe and across the world, how do you see this playing out?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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  1. For me, it depends on the source. It feels to me that the majority of the media is driven by putting out the latest scandal, crisis and catastrophe because that’s what readers/viewers want to see. I’m not taking the word of CNN or the NYT at face value. What does the CDC or other scientist in this field have to say?

  2. I had a lot of questions about the science that was presented, but the big message I saw being put forth was DANGER – INDIAN WATER IS GOING TO KILL EVERYONE!

    This article is all over the place. I feel like the “superbug gene rife in Dehli water supply” was the scare tactic conversation starter to introduce the larger issue of antibiotic resistance. Then they presented the idea that there is a dearth of new antibiotic development by drug companies (is this true?), and switched to how India has problems with poor sanitation, clean water and overpopulation, and finally that perhaps there are cover ups by the Indian government about the NDM-1 gene research. WTF is this article about?

  3. I am WAY skeptical of all this, perhaps it’s naive but I don’t quite understand the phrase “a gene has been found in the water”. Aren’t genes, like, attached to things such DNA and RNA? I mean, they’re not just free floating, right? Or am I wrong about that? And if they have found organisms with the gene why not say that?

    Plus, I always forget which UK papers are rubbish (The Times is Good, and The Daily Fail Mail is bad) but isn’t The Guardian the one that has a new cure/cause for cancer every other issue, or is that some other paper?

    Not enough info yet to panic.

  4. Well, yes, we do overuse antibiotics. As useful as they can be, we do have a problem with people using them to try to treat colds (rhinovirus) and flu (influenza is a kind of virus as well), neither of which are effected by anti-biotics. So we do have a problem with the abuse of unnecessary meds like anti-biotics.

    But this story is also overblown by the media, I would wager. Even if we are on the verge of a pandemic of Black Plague proportions, it’ll do us no good to run about screaming “we’re all going to die”. It will, however, do us heaps of good to get ready to make some lifestyle changes, if that is what needs to be done and take our medicine if the doctors ask us to.

    It would be an ideal world where people stop overusing medicine when they don’t need it and take it when they do (unlike the anti-vax movement’s followers). But I am just a dreamer.

  5. @MrMisconception: If you read further in the original article, they found bacteria with the NDM-1 gene. Bacteria are able to pass genes horizontally (I.e., not just to their offspring) so this gene could spread very quickly throughout the bacterial flora in that water.

    This is not overblown. I am a veterinarian with a master’s in public health. I used to work at the Minnesota Dept of Health. I’m not an expert, but I am more informed than most.

    The CDC calls antimicrobial resistance “one of the most pressing public health problems.” Here is their FAQ. (Btw, their website is very user friendly and informative.)

    It has been a long time since we have developed a new class of antibiotics. We are increasingly turning back to old antibiotics (vancomycin, sulfas) because sometimes resistant bacteria are sensitive to them, but not always.

    Of course, it does no good to panic (unless lying awake nights helps you think up a new antibiotic), but to follow M1yav1’s advice: take your meds when you are supposed to, how you are supposed to, and for as long as you’re supposed to, and not when you’re not.

  6. Sam- just catching up on my reading, I see I’m a bit out of date & this is a bit off topic, but because this blog is call SKEPCHICK, I feel I must point out the sexist comment you made in your original post.

    I’m quite confident the women at Skepchick HQ are capable of unclogging their own sinks, and I’m equally confident they don’t see every male figure as a “handyman”. While I doubt it was your intention, you managed to stereotype and insult both sexes with your attempt at humor.

    I will let it slide as you have been away for awhile- but please, be mindful of your audience. BTW- we missed, you, too.

    As for the whole Indian water thing? This post, unfortunately, is the first I’ve heard about it…

  7. As a physician, I will answer this as succinctly and authoritatively as possible. The answer is:


    Why? That’s a tad more complicated. It’s a combination of 1) treating empirically based on clinical scenarios which leads us to treat more than we should though it meets a standard of care within a community; 2) patient expectations to leave with a prescription, for after all, they may have taken time off from work or they may simply perceive that what they have is worse that what is reality; 3) failure of some physicians to educate their patients on why they aren’t administering an antibiotic and 4) medical legal fears. And these are the never black and white. Nothing ever is.

    And, as an aside, it was great seeing you at NECSS Sam.

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