If the rising sea levels, catastrophic storms, and CGI brand ambassadors don’t kill us, there’s always the drug-resistant bacteria, which are now so prevalent around the world that a study says one in 3 international travelers will come home harboring lethal little superbugs. Hahaha! It is so very fun to be alive!
On Sunday night, 60 Minutes spoke to both researchers studying antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the unsuspecting human bodies that harbor(ed) them. The segment confirmed what scientists have been saying for some time now: we’ve long been overusing antibiotics, and as a result, the bacteria are getting smarter, turning into miscroscopic mutant X-Bugs whose super powers permit them to evade the common drugs used to wipe them out.
There were a lot of chilling moments in the report—you can read some of the transcript here—but one of the most startling revelations came courtesy of Dr. Edward Ryan, who heads the travel clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital. Ryan headed a study that looked into whether or not American travelers could pick up superbugs overseas, and, if so, how long it might stay inside them, what effect it might have on them, and whether they could spread the bacteria once back home. The results were not encouraging.
“Our early results are a bit worrisome,” Ryan said. “It appears that about one in 3 individuals that we’ve enrolled in the study, when they come back into the United States, that they have one of the highly drug-resistant organisms that we’re worried about.”
Maureen Donnelly, one of the study’s participants, came back from India with a drug-resistant strain of E. Coli, even though she was stringent when it came to hand-washing, Purell-ing, bottled water-drinking, and staying away from undercooked food. Even with all that prep, when Donnelly showed up at Ryan’s clinic, he discovered, to her surprise, that she had been “colonized by a drug-resistant bacteria.”
Luckily for Donnelly, the E. Coli caused her no ill effects, and it made its way out of her in under three months. But other travelers might not be so lucky, and, as Ryan points out, these bugs could be anywhere. “It could emerge here in the U.S. and in London and Beijing and in Sydney,” he said. “We don’t know where the enemy is going to pop up, and the conditions are present all across the globe. The enemy can pop up anywhere at any time.”