(Infection Control and Sterilization Technology, June 1999: Vol 5, No. 6. Permission to use this article granted to M. Koopman, Infection Control Nurse, from the author, Wesley Mark Todd)

"We have met the enemy," quipped Pogo, "and he is us". Walt Kelly's comic strip character was referring to pollution, but he might as well have been addressing the growing public health problem of antibiotic resistance.

When antibiotics were first mass produced in the 1940's, many physicians predicted an end to the problem of infectious diseases. But the bugs began fighting back almost immediately. Resistance to penicillin was recorded as early as 1940 in Escherichia coli and 1944 in Staphylococcus aureus. (1) Luckily, in the early days of the antibiotic era, there always seemed to be another drug that could deal with a recalcitrant microbe. But recently, bacteria have appeared that are resistant to the majority of thee agents including even vancomycin, the most powerful of conventional antibiotics. New weapons are needed, and, thankfully, they are on the way.

Next: The Nature of Antibiotic Resistance