We are under attack, and we have been for the entirety of our existence. No, I don’t mean from al-Qaeda, or the red menace, or domestic terrorism, or space aliens. We are now, and we have always been, in a hidden war. Loosing battles in this war, which we do daily, has dire consequences to our family, friends, and neighbors. It is also devastating our national economy much more than the war in Afghanistan or Iraq.
The enemy is pervasive, but also seen and unseen. In fact, some are almost invisible. Highly adaptable, they are also some of the most physically fragile beings in the universe. Still, they are once again winning this war.
To quote Kevin Bacon’ character, Capt. Jack Ross, a marine prosecuting attorney in the movie, A Few Good Men, “These are the facts, and they are undisputed!” If this is true, then why is it that you likely have no clue as to what I am talking about.
Well, it is because in the past 150 years we have built an entire system – or non-system if you prefer – a huge set of industries, and centuries of myth building, marketing, and hype that has obscured these undisputed facts. Like other things in our day to day existence, we have all heard about them, but never have we heard them discussed in a manner that brings critical cognizance of the raging battles and losses. More often than not, these battles are taking place on the fringes of our perception – the page six areas of the newspapers, in the filler segments on the evening news. Every once in a while, like the recent story of Aimee Copeland, 24, who contracted flesh eating bacteria in the Little Tallapoosa River in Georgia, and is now gradually loosing significant pieces of her body to this attacking hoard, they will rise to our national consciousness because of their sensational story line. Mostly they just go un-noticed. The victims piling up in anonymity.
The fundamental area of this war is healthcare. You see, we may think healthcare is a static process but it is really an on-going war. It s a war with other species – parasites, bacteria, and viruses. It is a war with our environment – broken bones, punctures, pollution, and poisons. It is a war with ourselves – our own behavior. And, it is a war we are increasingly loosing.
For well over 100 years, we have been in a protracted, often heated, biochemical war with bacteria and viruses, the smallest and most prevalent of all species on the planet. Guess what, they are winning. One reviewer of my recent book, The History and Evolution of Healthcare in America, very politely pointed out I had not spent much time on the miracle weapon that was penicillin. He was correct. The reason was to make a bigger point later in the book. Penicillin, once the wonder of wonder drugs, today is hardly ever prescribed. In fact, it is now prescribed so little, there are some new bacterial strains now loosing resistance to this drug and in some rare cases it is again effective. What goes around – comes around, I guess!
Unfortunately, this is not the norm. We have, every day, more and more strains of bacteria that are resistant to our strongest antibiotics. MRSA, Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, is the often fatal hospital acquired infection that is running rampant in the U.S. and the rest of the world. It is a mutation of a common bacteria found in everyone’s mouth. The so called flesh eating bacteria is a deadly mutated strain of a common Streptococcus bacteria found in soil and often on your skin that usually is best known for a strep throat. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
As we have been bombarding these species with our best biochemical weapons for the last eighty years they have not been content to just die off. Some have fought back and survived. Sometimes we have let them survive buy not treating the disease thoroughly or aggressively enough. Sometimes we just treated nothing at all with these wonder weapons and the bacteria always lurking found ways to adapt to survive and attack us in different and more deadly ways.
As a result, today we are weaker as a species and our micro-enemies are stronger, faster and much more virulent. Now they don’t just prey on us, you might say they have an increasingly bad attitude.
Unfortunately in this war, unlike our other war in Afghanistan, our defense contractors of Big Pharma and Biotech have run out of the low hanging fruit. The drugs they are coming up with now are more caustic and have more side effects. Soon, some therapeutics will require a very specific match to a persons generic make up (genotype), or their specific body chemistry (phenotype). Our current healthcare system is standing flat footed, without a system to mange such a supply chain.
We need to soon focus on a fundamental redesign of the healthcare supply chain or our prognosis as a species is not good. Fortunately, we do have some innovative companies like Savarra Pharmaceutical who is finding new ways to revitalize old resistant drugs like Vancomicyn for treatment of MRSA in patients with Cystic Fibrosis. We have companies like Mercator Medsystems who is developing innovative ways to apply higher concentrations of therapeutics directly on the required areas using micro catheters, and we have non profits like Staphylococcus Education Leadership Foundation (SELF) who are finally working against the tide to raise awareness of these crucial survival issues. And, there are many others. All toiling quietly away trying to make a change.
Still it is uncomfortable to say this, but few of us are really grasping the scope of the problem. How soon it will be before we wake up to this risk is only a matter of when the first MRSA or Flesh Eating Bacteria pandemic explode the comfortable myth of our interspecies technical dominance. Clearly, the AIDS pandemic scared the bejesus out if us for a short time. But in the end, and unfortunately for us, it’s initial impact was in a segment of the population easily marginalized. Soon, we may not be as lucky. Or maybe, soon we will see an attack so severe in its countenance, like the bubonic plague was in the middle ages, that we may finally mobilize enough resources for long enough to once again win a few big battles. Will we then finally recognize the fundamental need for change? Perhaps we still won’t!
In the end, this is, and always will remain, an ongoing battle for survival of the fittest. And as long as our fitness comes from artificial or biochemical means then we are not really surviving at all – just deluding ourselves and prolonging the inevitable.
Perhaps you will find this interesting – perhaps not… I wrote this entire article on my iPhone! Not particularly easy but do-able. Ain’t technology grand!