(NaturalNews) The steady medical advance against viruses and bacteria that many experts were trumpeting in the early days of vaccines and antibiotics seems to have stalled, if not reversed. The ongoing emergence of new and increasingly drug-resistant diseases is now causing many to question whether the war against microbes is one that can ever be won.
"It is a war of attrition," said David Livermore of the United Kingdom's Health Protection Agency. "There have been points where we have been advancing, and points when we have had to beat a retreat. If we were having this conversation 20 years ago, for instance, we would be celebrating the vaccine for bacterial meningitis."
The news these days contains less of celebration and more of alarm. Even with H1N1 swine flu now appearing less dangerous than originally thought and infection rates of the superbug Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) falling in the United Kingdom, widespread antibiotic use and a globalized world have made the processes of pathogen evolution and spread faster than ever before.
The threat from the highly lethal H5N1 bird flu - a mere mutation away from a highly contagious form - has not abated, and other infectious threats thought long vanquished continue to rear their heads. China, for example, is currently battling an outbreak of pneumonic plague caused by Yersina pestis, the same bacterium that wiped out a third of Europe's population as the Black Plague. Meanwhile, longer lifespans have encouraged the emergence of suberbugs such as Clostridium difficile, which preferentially targets elderly patients who have already been treated with antibiotics.
"Sensible prescribing is part of the answer, but we also need new antibiotics," Livermore said. "It's not one of the most attractive areas for pharmaceutical companies as people don't take them for very long, unlike treatments for heart disease or cancer."
"We will always be at war with microbes," said Primrose Freestone of the University of Leicester. "Their genetic promiscuity is impressive."