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Killers Within: The Deadly Rise of Drug Resistant Bacteria

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2002

    An Important Book

    This is a serious book about a very serious subject--the escalating arms race between humans and disease-causing microbes. The bad news is that we're losing, making the emergence of resistant disease causing bacteria "one of the greatest threats to the survival of the human species." Co-written by Mark Plotkin, a leading ethnobotanist and Michael Schnayerson, a talented writer and editor, The Killers Within is a readable, often gripping narrative, full of stories, personalities and drama. At the same time, it does a good job detailing the history, science and politics that surround the struggle of medical science to stay a step ahead of the deadly bugs that are proving remarkably adept at evolving ways to defeat our antibiotics. The authors have no trouble fingering the culprits in this losing battle--an agricultural industry pouring millions of pounds of antibiotics into poultry and livestock as "growth promoters," doctors and patients who overuse antibiotics, and the interaction of profits and politics that determines which drugs reach the market and when. Behind these lies our naive blindness to the bacterial world's incredible capacity to defeat even our most powerful weapons. Bacteria have multiple ways to evolve handy genetic information, such as how to cleave penicillin molecules or pump antibiotics out of their cells. They are also remarkably promiscuous about swapping their genetic skills. All it takes is one bacteria that survives an antibiotic by evolving a new resistance mechanism; within a few years even unrelated bacteria thousands of miles away will know the trick. It's as easy for bacteria, the authors write, "as collecting charms on a charm bracelet." The authors chillingly describe the costs of this war being fought out in our labs, hospitals and bodies--millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide, and the risk to all of us of returning to a world where we are no longer protected by antibiotics. Most of the major pathogens have already evolved multiple drug resistance. A recent report from Britain finds that 25% of all reported deaths there mention MRSA--methicillin resistant Staphlococcus aureus--as a cause or contributing factor. The very young and the very old are already dying from these newly untreatable infections, but any one of us is now at risk that a cut, an accident, a minor surgery or a bout of flu can lead on to a raging infection by bacteria resistant to most if not all antibiotics. The authors do hold out some hope. Perhaps phages, vaccines, or new generations of genetically engineered antimicrobial agents will once again tip the balance in our favor. But for now, expect to see more headlines about outbreaks of resistant strains of bacteria and to hear more horror stories from friends whose scratch or surgery turned into a life-threatening nightmare. This book will help you make sense of those events. Let's hope that the dedicated and farsighted researchers it depicts will eventually win the day. Robert Adler, author of Science Firsts: From the Creation of Science to the Science of Creation (Wiley, 2002).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2002


    As a child I read Microbe Hunters and decided to become a scientist. This is the modern iteration of that classic!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2002


    Very informative and thought provoking. I would reccomend everyone who cares about health read this.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2002

    Bacteria: can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em

    You will never feel the same visiting the hospital after reading this book. Plotkin's book is very easy to read, fulfilling for a leisure book (after all, it is no textbook--though I'm sure he'd write a great microbiology textbook). This book made me want to go obtain further resources (ie; journal articles, microbiology and pharmacology textbooks) to learn in more detail about the modes of action of antibiotics and bacterial proliferation.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2002

    It's the Little Thing's in Life That'll Get You!!

    "The Killers Within: The Deadly Rise of Drug Resistant Bacteria" is an excellent book that imparts good solid science readable by the astute layman. It's not an easy read, in some sections, but all of it is well presented. I am a science "nut" and always feel a deep regret when I read the last page of a good book on germs, epidemics, the immune system and such. I was particularly sad when I finished this one. The book presents the position of mankind today in the world of how we balance (or don't balance!!) with the microbes that surround us. The reader comes away with a sense of disaster as mankind continues to feed antibiotics to animals. The material that describes the promise and the heartbreak of developing phage science gives a clear picture of the politics and finances involved in bringing a drug to market. You may love to read about germs, as I do, but be prepared for a scary scenario in this book--one that is all too true. The lesson: We'd better soon learn to use antibiotics safely or pay the consequences.

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