What Causes drug Resistance?
Last fall I flew halfway across the country to go grocery shopping with Everly Macario. We set out from her second-story apartment in Hyde Park near the University of Chicago and walked to the supermarket to buy a couple of rib steaks that Macario planned to serve to her husband and two children, ages 7 and 13. Macario, who is 46, holds a doctorate in public health from Harvard University and has spent decades as a consultant, working to prevent deaths from chronic conditions such as cancer and cardiac disease.
Yet she believes that what she buys—or more accurately, refuses to buy—in the supermarket is the most important action she takes, not only for her family’s health but for the health of every person in this country. “I am determined that no product from an animal that has been fed antibiotics will ever enter my home, ” she said as we walked along the meat counter peering at beef, poultry and pork. “I look for labels that read ‘certified organic, ’ ‘no antibiotics’ or ‘raised without antibiotics.’”
It’s not the antibiotics themselves that are troubling: animals pass the drugs through their systems long before they are slaughtered and animal products are tested for traces of antibiotics. What really worries Macario is the increasing wave of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that might be traveling on her food.
Macario has reason to be vigilant. Her 18-month-old son, Simon, died in 2004 from an infection known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (or MRSA, pronounced “mersa”). Simon was a husky, happy toddler. On his first birthday, Macario marveled to her husband that the baby had never been sick. Then one morning the boy awoke with, in Macario’s words, a “blood-curdling shriek.” Rushed to the hospital, Simon was put on a heart-lung machine. “The doctors administered every available antibiotic, ” she said. “It didn’t work. The bacteria were resistant to all of the medication.” In less than 24 hours he was dead. “The bacteria released toxins that destroyed his vital organs, ” Macario said.
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