Baboon Pirates

Scribbles and Scrawls from an unrepentant swashbuckling primate.

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Location: Texas, United States

Monday, November 15, 2004

Better wash your hands after reading this...

I just ran across this article by Bruce Sterling, the science fiction author. It's located on the Electronic Frontier Foundation website.

It's a highly entertaining (and thoroughly frightening) look at the growing trend of antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

Here's a quick sample...
If the resistance triumphs, it does not mean the outbreak of universally lethal plagues or the end of the human race. It is not an apocalyptic problem. What it would really mean --probably-- is a slow return, over decades, to the pre-antibiotic bacterial status-quo. A return to the bacterial status-quo of the nineteenth century.

For us, the children of the miracle, this would mean a truly shocking decline in life expectancy. Infant mortality would become very high; it would once again be common for parents to have five children and lose three. It would mean a return to epidemic flags, quarantine camps, tubercular sanatariums, and leprosariums.

Cities without good sanitation --mostly Third World cities-- would suffer from water-borne plagues such as cholera and dysentery. Tuberculosis would lay waste the underclass around the world. If you cut yourself at all badly, or ate spoiled food, there would be quite a good chance that you would die. Childbirth would be a grave septic risk for the mother.

The practice of medicine would be profoundly altered. Elaborate, high-tech surgical procedures, such as transplants and prosthetic implants, would become extremely risky. The expense of any kind of surgery would soar, since preventing infection would be utterly necessary but very tedious and difficult. A bad heart would be a bad heart for life, and a shattered hip would be permanently disabling. Health-care budgets would be consumed by antiseptic and hygienic programs.

Life without contagion and infection would seem as quaintly exotic as free love in the age of AIDS. The decline in life expectancy would become just another aspect of broadly diminishing cultural expectations in society, economics, and the environment. Life in the developed world would become rather pinched, wary, and nasty, while life in the overcrowded human warrens of the megalopolitan Third World would become an abattoir.

Give it a read. It's well worth your time.