Category Archives: News

‘Superbug’ Threat

In their opinion piece, “‘Superbug’ Threat,” in today’s Washington Post, Ramanan Laxminarayan and Mark Plotkin draw attention to the growing danger of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Another one to file under “Threats: Self-Inflicted.”

Every day in the United States, 100 men, women and children — 40,000 or more every year — die from infections caused by bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

Why are our miracle drugs failing us? One reason — well documented — is that we have used them too often, to treat infections and conditions that more often than not could be defeated by the body’s immune system without medical intervention. Another reason is that antibiotics have become omnipresent, in our food and water supply, as farmers feed them to cattle and poultry and spray them on crops. As we ingest them in low doses, bacteria become familiar with them and mutate to protect themselves.

Obviously bacteria don’t mutate to protect themselves, but the ones with mutations that enable them to survive find a wide-open field where they don’t have to compete with bacteria that don’t survive. Some of these can kill, and our obsession with sanitation may be our undoing. Contributing to the threat is the prevalence of high-speed travel, leading to a quicker, more far-flung epidemic, as seen with the spread of SARS from China to other countries and continents.

However, it’s unlikely that the human race will be wiped out. Some of us will survive, presumably hardier and hopefully wiser. Nonetheless, I’d hate to be among the ones who have to bury the dead.

These guys are nuts

(Mark Boster / LAT)

Washington Post: Drawn to The Flame

Ash is falling like rain. It’s 3 p.m. and the sun burns a crimson circle through a gray nimbus. The mountain glows like a volcano about to erupt.

As a wall of flame explodes skyward along the scrub-covered spine of the ridge, Bagala — collapsed in a wheelbarrow as if it were an easy chair — thinks about how close he came to missing this one. He happened to be filling in for a buddy on what would have been his day off when the call came in.

The buddy whose shift he took, “he’s not too happy right now,” Bagala says. Every firefighter wants to be in the fire zone.

The reserve will be a nightmare to defend. Only a single winding, uneven dirt road provides access to a group of hacienda-style houses nestled at the base of some mountains, leaving few options for beating a hasty retreat. Unlike in Stevenson Ranch, there is no apron of moist greenery around the buildings, just a single hydrant and a swimming pool.

After a quick triage, the firefighters set about cutting down what trees they can. The plan here is to create a buffer around the structures and to use the pool water if necessary. If the fire blows through, they will take refuge in one of the buildings, stay close to the floor and hope it doesn’t catch fire.

It’s little wonder that some firebugs turn out to be the very people who are supposed to be stopping the fires. Like in a John Woo film, the heroes and villains are just two sides of the same coin.

Health insurers’ deals get mixed reactions

USA Today: Health insurers’ deals get mixed reactions Competition could increase, but small insurers could fold

Benefit consultants and others had mixed views on what the mergers may mean for consumers. Savings from merging back-office efforts and eliminating some jobs could slow increases in premiums, which are currently rising at their fastest clip in a decade. The Anthem-WellPoint deal particularly may increase competition among large insurers eager to attract the business of large, multistate employers.

If the merger of two large health care providers could save increases in premiums by merging some operations and laying off staff, then it follows that a single health care provider could also save money. Strip out the advertising budget and the savings will increase.

Combine this with policies that restrict drug company advertising, expedite the process of bringing generic versions of off-patent drugs to market, negotiate drug-price controls in other countries, and control the costs of catastrophic medical care, and we might be able to afford health care for everyone while reining in overall costs to an acceptable percentage of GDP.