Maryn McKenna: What Do We Do When Antibiotics Don’t Work Any More?


Penicillin changed everything. Infections that had previously killed were suddenly quickly curable. Yet as Maryn McKenna shares in this sobering talk, we’ve squandered the advantages afforded us by that and later antibiotics. Drug-resistant bacteria mean we’re entering a post-antibiotic world — and it won’t be pretty. There are, however, things we can do … if we start right now.

Maryn McKenna recounts the often terrifying stories behind emerging drug-resistant diseases that medical science is barely keeping at bay.

Maryn McKenna’s harrowing stories of hunting down anthrax with the CDC and her chronicle of antibiotic-resistant staph infections in Superbug earned her the nickname “scary disease girl” among her colleagues.

But her investigations into public health don’t stop there: she blogs and writes on the history of epidemics and the public health challenges posed by factory farming. For her forthcoming book, McKenna is researching the symbiotic history of food production and antibiotics, and how their use impacts our lives, societies and the potential for illness.

Antibiotic resistance was predicted, just two years after penicillin was used for the first time. In fact, it was predicted by Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered penicillin. He was given the Nobel Prize in 1945 in recognition, and in an interview shortly after, this is what he said:

The thoughtless person playing with penicillin treatment is morally responsible for the death of a man who succumbs to infection with a penicillin-resistant organism. I hope this evil can be averted.

Alexander Fleming

Thanks to Maryn McKenna.

Last Checked/Updated: August 12, 2019.
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