Skin in the Game: We Now Have “Super Acne”

Scientists at Britain’s National Health Service told us this week that 4 out of 5 people who suffer from acne now have bacteria that are resistant to three of the most common antibiotics used to treat the condition – erythromycin, tetracyclines, and clindamycin – hence the term “super acne.” What’s more, these resistant bacteria can be spread by direct contact from one person to the next.

acneThis matters because 8 out of 10 teenagers already experience acne and while for most people it will disappear with age, for some it continues well into adulthood. Left untreated, it can have a big psychosocial impact and cause scarring.

And then there’s our old friend Staphylococcus aureus, a common cause of skin infections, among other and more serious things. In a separate study, also released this week, researchers at King’s College Hospital, London, looked at Staph’s resistance to antibiotics and found that it has almost doubled over the last 7 years. Specifically, they found that 30% of samples taken from general dermatology patients in 2014 were resistant to the antibiotic erythromycin. In 2007, only 17% of the samples were found to be resistant.

Commenting on the studies, Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists says: “The growing resistance to antibiotics among skin patients generally and among acne patients more specifically, as highlighted by these two studies, is of concern.”

But there’s a deeper issue here: while the crisis of antibiotic resistance is usually framed as a coming event, it’s actually with us now. Here’s an example of how the issue is typically put, and you’ll notice the reference to the future:

“Many aspects of medicine, if you do not have antibiotics, we will not be able to do: intensive care unit medicine goes out the window; complicated surgery goes out the window; cancer chemotherapy goes out the window; [safely delivering] premature babies goes out the window; organ transplants – all that stuff is only possible to do if you have effective antibiotics.”

These are the words – from the video below – of one of the smartest guys in the room when it comes to this stuff: Brad Spellberg, MD, author of Rising Plague, and professor of medicine and chief medical officer over at the Los Angeles County and the University of Southern California Medical Center.

But what of the present? Do we have evidence that antibiotics are failing us right now? Spellberg gives us one example:

“You get a urinary tract infection and we’re seeing patients that we have to hospitalize to put on IV antibiotics because there’s no oral antibiotics left anymore for these patients.”

As the World Health Organization said last year: “… antimicrobial resistance … is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country.”

In other words, as time passes, more of us are having skin the game – quite literally.


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