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Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are multiplying. To stop them, we must preserve the drugs we have—and find new antibiotics now.

Mary Millard lives with an antibiotic-resistant infection, caused by bacteria known as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, that she acquired during heart surgery in 2014.

“I was 55 and super healthy, and I started getting atrial fibrillation,” recalls Millard, who lives near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “I could feel my heart jumping around in my chest.” She was scheduled for surgery, but went into massive cardiac arrest just before the surgery and ended up on an ECMO heart-lung machine. “That’s when I acquired the infection,” she says. Such infections can be difficult to eradicate, especially if they involve any type of medical device such as a prosthetic joint or vascular graft, and the symptoms can flare up repeatedly and unexpectedly.

Since being infected, Millard says, “I’ve had 28 CT scans and hundreds of X-rays. I developed sepsis in 2014 and again a year later.” At the time she was given a 98% chance of dying. “People think: ‘I’m healthy; I’ll never get an infection.’ But it can happen to anybody.”

Over the past decade, there has been an explosion in infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria—the so-called superbugs that have evolved to outsmart the working mechanisms of antibiotics and develop resistance to them, continuing to grow instead of being killed by the medicine. These bacteria have increasingly grabbed headlines worldwide—carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), Klebsiella, and, perhaps the most commonly known, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)—and can have a terrifying aftermath.

Superbugs threaten all of modern medicine: As they become increasingly common, patients getting routine surgery or care such as cancer treatment risk acquiring an infection that’s difficult or impossible to treat.

By: Kathleen Cahill