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The common thought seems to be that antibiotics are the ultimate solution to every sniffle. That's been the case since the discovery of antibiotics.

Antibiotics help with ailments caused by bacterial infections. But viruses? Think the common cold, most cases of strep throat, the majority of sinus infections, etc.--antibiotics don't touch them. Speaking of antibiotics . . .

A story that caught our eye on the front page of Thursday's paper showed the importance of raising antibiotic awareness, because these drugs are quickly becoming ineffective as so many patients demand them and too many doctors prescribe them in situations where they'll have no effect. This leads to germs that cause bacterial infection becoming more resistant.

When too many people are given antibiotics, and germs become resistant, Z-Paks and other common drugs lose their effectiveness. And doctors lose a powerful tool in their arsenal in the fight against infection. So they turn to newer antibiotics that most germs haven't built up resistance to yet. And the problem this particular article highlights is that companies making new antibiotics are in serious financial trouble.

"Antibiotic startups such as Achaogen and Aradigm have gone belly-up in recent months, pharmaceutical behemoths such as Novartis and Allergan have abandoned the sector, and many of the remaining American antibiotic companies are teetering toward insolvency. One of the biggest developers of antibiotics, Melinta Therapeutics, recently warned regulators that it was running out of cash," writes Andrew Jacobs.

The article continues, "Experts say the grim financial outlook for the few companies still committed to antibiotic research is driving away investors and threatening to strangle the development of lifesaving drugs at a time when they are urgently needed."

That's not good. We need new antibiotics, but there's not exactly tons of profit in making the drugs. Antibiotics don't earn pharmaceutical companies wealth like medicines for chronic conditions because they're expensive to make, and people use them for a short period of time and are done with them. Hard to make money on a drug most patients use just a couple of times, if at all.

But lack of profitability doesn't decrease overall need. If a patient is admitted to the hospital with a resistant bacterial infection, the doctors there might have to rely on a more potent or alternative antibiotic. And if there isn't one because all the companies that made them have gone out of business? Patients might die.

A CDC report from last month showed drug-resistant infections now kill 35,000 people in the United States each year and sicken 2.8 million. Worse, without new therapies, the United Nations says, the global death toll could soar to 10 million by 2050.

So now is the time to pay attention to this emergency. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Our government needs to start investing in emergency grants so research can be done to keep making these life-saving drugs. If something isn't profitable in the private market, but a powerful need for it still exists for that product or service, that's where government is supposed to step in.

Wait any longer, and those thousands of deaths will become millions, all because key research went unfunded. America is a world leader in pharmaceutical innovation. If our country won't solve this, who will?

Editorial on 12/30/2019

Print Headline: Pay attention to germs

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