The Decline of Penicillin: The Modern Day Crisis of Antiobiotic Resistance
As antibiotics began treating a widening range of formerly fatal infectious diseases in the 1960’s, the medical community grew progressively more complacent. Reassured by clinical progress, prominent scientists were convinced that modern medicine had triumphed over its bacterial ad- versaries. In particular, U.S. Surgeon General William H. Stewart claimed that the time had come to “close the book on infectious diseases and declare the war against pestilence won” (NLM, 2006). Nobel laureate Sir Frank MacFarlane Burnet likewise considered “the middle of the twentieth century [to be] the end of one of the most important social revolutions in history, the virtual elimination of the infectious diseases” (Burnet, 1962, p. 18). Notwithstanding the convictions of these experts, their statements are in retrospect erroneous and certainly premature; they underestimated the appreciable adaptability of bacteria, and were thus unable to foresee the impending perils of microbial resistance.
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