From Greek mythology, Scylla and Charybdis are two sea monsters of Greek mythology who were said to be situated on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Sicily and Calabria, in Italy. They were said to be located close enough to each other that they posed an inescapable threat to passing sailors; avoiding Charybdis meant passing too closely to Scylla and vice versa.

This sort of Gordian knot is exactly what the people who are infected with medically resistant bacteria are faced with, as they have a choice to make, die with the rest of their body intact, other than what is affected by these bacteria, or rid themselves of the bacteria, and suffer damage (usually to their kidneys) that will likely end up killing them by degrees over time.

The problem is that the MRSA bacteria is no longer alone, and others are being identified all the time. We are told that the problem is too much use of common antibacterial products, but what is the solution?

A small piece from slashdot informs us more completely, but delivers no answers –

“New strains of ‘Gram-negative’ bacteria have become resistant to all safe antibiotics. Though methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is the best-known antibiotic-resistant germ, the new class of resistant bacteria could be more dangerous still. ‘The bacteria, classified as Gram-negative because of their reaction to the so-called Gram stain test, can cause severe pneumonia and infections of the urinary tract, bloodstream, and other parts of the body. Their cell structure makes them more difficult to attack with antibiotics than Gram-positive organisms like MRSA.’ The only antibiotics — colistin and polymyxin B — that still have efficacy against Gram-negative bacteria produce dangerous side effects: kidney damage and nerve damage. Patients who are infected with Gram-negative bacteria must make the unsavory choice between life with kidney damage or death with intact kidneys. Recently, some new strains of Gram-negative bacteria have shown resistance against even colistin and polymyxin B. Infection with these new strains typically means death for the patient.”

How is the average man to make this choice? Just as the men on ancient journeys could not escape the Scylla and Charybdis, it seems that for now, there is nothing that can be done, save for using some common sense when living our lives. The common sense of avoiding damaging bacteria may lead to different lives for some of us, but it certainly is a better choice than having to make the one outlined above.

I am saddened by this, as it moves us in the direction that much of medicine is taking these days; for if you have watched much television, you no doubt have seen a commercial for some new product designed to cure a problem, yet in the very low background, while the lovely music is playing, and the cured users are being displayed, the possible side effects are given, many times with outcomes much worse than the suffering caused by the problem or disease [since when is death considered a side effect?].


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