Are You Ready For a Post-Antibiotic World? It’s Here…

We’ve ignored the warnings for 70 years, and now the dreaded post-antibiotic era is upon us…. Here’s how we got here, and why it may be too late to stop it now.

We’ve been mis-using antibiotics for years, and now we’re about to pay the price. This article warns of the arrival of a post-antibiotic world, and explains the timeline of events that has led us to a point of no return, when it comes to treating infectious disease with antibiotics.

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As with natural resources, fast food, and reality TV, the U.S.’s biggest problem with antibiotics has been overconsumption. While the creation and introduction of antibiotics to the public in the 1940’s was a total game-changer for modern medicine and has since saved millions of lives, prolific use over the past several decades has led to “the single most important infectious disease threat of our time,” according to Beth Bell of the Centers for Disease Control. Evolution is catching up to our inventions.

Despite warnings 70 years ago by the inventor of antibiotics (penicillin), and numerous warnings ever since, we have continued to use antibiotics indiscriminately, to the point where new “super-bugs” are soon expected to prove resistant to every antibiotic ever invented.

Here is a timeline of the warnings we have ignored:

September 3, 1928: A bacteriologist by the name of Sir Alexander Fleming noticed a small amount of Penicillin notatum…growing on one of his culture plates of Staphylococcus aureus. The effect he noticed that day would later lead to the creation of the revolutionary antibiotic penicillin.

Fleming was also the first physician to raise the alarm around overuse, however, as far back as 1945….

After great success in treating serious infections in the 1940’s and then treating and managing the infections of soldiers during WWII, antibiotics weren’t going anywhere. They had saved millions of lives and allowed for immense medical advancement — they were miracle drugs. So when penicillin resistance first became a serious clinical issue in the 1950’s, pharmaceutical companies simply opted to create new antibiotics. The troubling trend of making new drugs when resistance arose to those already in use would carry on for half a century.

1953: A Science News Letter article titled, “Fear Man-Made Epidemics,” warned that antibiotics should not be used prophylactically.

1958: the United States Surgeon General issued a warning that over-reliance on antibiotics had contributed to the dramatic spread of Staph. aureus. 

1960: Time published an article titled “Medicine: Cooling the Hot Staph” that read, “Almost as fast as new antibiotics are marketed, there evolve a few strains of disease-causing microbes that are resistant to the most potent germ killers. Recently, thanks largely to overuse and outright abuse of favorite antibiotics — especially penicillin — it has seemed that medical scientists were fighting a losing battle.”

1961 and 1964: Good Housekeeping also warned against casual antibiotic use.

1961 – 1962: The New York Times published three articles that detailed “a steady increase in antibiotic-resistant hospital infections.

1967: Newsweek published a story explainingplasmids and horizontal gene transfer (HGT). The article went on to warn of the dangers of mutant E.coli that would result from cattle being fed antibiotic-laced feed.

1980’s: The production of antibiotics slowed due to economic and regulatory hurdles. Before those hurdles ever posed a significant threat to production, though, scientists had already proven that every antibiotic created would eventually be resisted by bacteria….

Why then has antibiotic use continued increasing to a point of ineffectiveness without any sort of backup plan?

A 2014 paper, “The Future of Antibiotics and Resistance,” referred to the phenomenon as the Tragedy of Commons. … Quite simply put, it’s hard to get people to ditch self-interest in the present in the name of a nebulous greater good in the future.


“Crisis,” “nightmare scenario,” and “catastrophic consequences” have all been used in reference to the recent antibiotic resistance upheaval, but significant warning signs have predicted this moment for nearly seventy years. Had serious action been taken to mitigate the problem in, say, the 1970s, there’s a good chance this would be a manageable problem, instead of a crisis nightmare scenario with catastrophic consequences.

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