The Plagues Next Time.

Somebody (Stephen Colbert?) once joked the “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” Actually, reality has a well-known bias in favor of human reason. Reason, in turn, is pretty-much non-partisan and available to anyone who cares to develop it. Of course, one problem is that not everyone is a willing consumer.

Antibiotics.[1] Bacteria cause infections and spread infectious diseases. Infections and infectious diseases used to kill many people. Even with sterile operating room, for example, the danger of post-operative infection made even an appendectomy a hazardous procedure. At the dawn of the 20th Century, scientists and doctors combined to launch a medical revolution. They developed antibiotics like penicillin to fight infections. All sorts of perils were suddenly conquered. Antibiotics made a vital contribution to the dramatic rise in life expectancy during the 20th Century.

Now we face a potentially devastating return of infectious diseases. The origins of this menace are complex, rather than simple and easily addressed. First, bacteria are living things that adapt to their environment. Some bacteria are hardier than other bacteria when it comes to resisting antibiotics. These hardy bacteria can develop mutations that make them more resistant to antibiotics, so they multiply while the less-resistant strains of bacteria are wiped out. (See: Darwin and his “theory” of Evolution.) Two factors have greatly facilitated this development. On the one hand, idiot doctors prescribe antibiotics in the wrong circumstances and idiot patients who get prescribed antibiotics often stop taking them before they have completed the full course. This wipes out weaker bacteria while leaving stronger bacteria to multiply. Once there are enough of the resistant bacteria in the system, the existing type of antibiotics no longer work. Then, “factory farming” of livestock involves massive use of antibiotics in the feed for these animals. Eighty percent of antibiotics are used on “factory farms.” So this creates a hot-house environment for the mutation of bacteria. Ooops.

Second, pharmaceutical companies lose money on new antibiotics to fight the new “superbugs” that are developing. People only take antibiotics when they have a bacterial infection. That is a rare occurrence compared to what it was before antibiotics were developed. Moreover, the sales price of antibiotics is low. Taken together, these factors make for a thin revenue stream from antibiotics. However, antibiotics are very expensive to develop. The average antibiotic loses $50 million for the company that develops it. In contrast, drugs to treat chronic conditions (diabetes, high blood pressure, can’t-get-it-up-with-a-crane) are taken on a constant basis over a long period of time. They are money-spinners. So, no important new antibiotics have been created since 1987.

How do we avoid this train wreck? First, give the pharmaceutical companies a reason to create new antibiotics. (I know: “They make enormous profits! They should do this out of the goodness of their souls!” They won’t and the “public option” beloved of “progressive people” = the Veterans’ Administration + Solyndra.) Extend the length of time that companies have patent protection for their antibiotics. This will keep low-cost producers from churning out generics. Second, subsidize the companies with tax-credits when they develop antibiotics. Third, put a stop to the abuse of antibiotics by idiot doctors and patients, and by factory farms.

 

Vaccination.[2] One idea behind vaccination is to wipe out diseases among young people. As the diseases are wiped out, they cease to pose a threat to older people as the effects of the childhood vaccinations wear off with time. Fine, so long as hardly anyone misses out on vaccinations. However, that is just what is starting to happen.

In 1998 Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a scientific study showing that the development of autism in twelve children could be linked to the standard vaccination against measles, mumps, and rubella. Naturally, many parents became alarmed. A subsequent inquiry demonstrated that the study was a fraud. Many subsequent studies have demonstrated that there is no connection between vaccination and autism. Too late! The suspicion/belief that vaccination is dangerous had become entrenched among a large and growing segment of parents. Why did this happen? In part, because of a 300 percent increase it the number of cases of autism that were diagnosed between 2002 and 2013. Although scientists suspect that autism arises from a mixture of genetic and environmental factors, the “anti-vaxxers” aren’t buying this explanation. Today, about ten percent of parents either postpone scheduled vaccines or claim a “personal belief” exemption to prevent their children from receiving vaccinations.

Who are the “anti-vaxxers”? Their ranks include pure-life progressives who reject both vaccines and genetically-modified foods; libertarians who see good health as just one more federal intrusion on their God-given right to watch their children cough their lungs out; and the descendants of the Scopes “monkey trial” rural conservatives.

What do “anti-vaxxers” believe? They believe that immunization can cause disorders and/or that so many vaccinations—16 is common—can “overwhelm” the body’s natural resistance to disease and expose children to diseases. There is NO evidence for any of this.

There is abundant evidence that reducing the number of vaccinated children then exposes adults to diseases from which they have thought themselves safe. In 2012, 50,000 Americans came down with whooping cough, by far the largest number if fifty years. Eighteen people died. In 2013 the number of cases of measles (OK, 190) was three times higher than in 2012.

Where do I go to get away from the people who want to get away from the Federal government? Idaho?

[1] “The antibiotic crisis,” The Week, 22 November 2013, p. 9.

[2] “The return of childhood diseases,” The Week, 7 March 2014, p. 9.

 

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