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The Killers Within: The Deadly Rise Of Drug-Resistant Bacteria Paperback – September 2, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0316735667 ISBN-10: 0316735663 Edition: Reprint
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bacteria preceded human life by millions of years but will they also outlive us? Shnayerson, a staff writer at Vanity Fair magazine, and Plotkin, an ethnobotanist, paint an alarming picture of the crisis posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They focus on the three most common types: enterococci, streptococci and staphylococci. They tell of the deadly S. aureus a particularly virulent strain of staph that has shown up in deadly resistant strains and the infamous "flesh-eating bacteria" (necrotizing fascitis), whose incidence has been on the rise. They explain the myriad factors that have contributed to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and disease, most important among them the overprescription and misuse of the drugs, including the antibiotics fed to livestock to promote growth. Sharing the latest research, the authors suggest that future antibiotics are in the most unlikely places, from shark-bellies and silkmoths to the saliva of the Indonesian Komodo dragon. Shnayerson and Plotkin write in a lively, journalistic style and spotlight many victims, microbiologists and other "faces" behind the statistics, going far to make the copious scientific information accessible to general readers (though some may still be daunted). Yet their alarmist tone may strike many readers as overly sensationalistic and grating. Moreover, many of the facts about antibiotics abuse and drug-resistant bacteria are simply old news, and this book may not drum up much interest in spite of its informative analysis.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

At first glance, Shnayerson, a Vanity Fair staff writer, and noted ethnobotanist Plotkin (Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice) seem an unlikely pair to be writing a book about antibiotic resistance. Yet the reader quickly becomes engrossed in their tale. The authors provide an extremely readable look at the overuse of antibiotics, the methods bacteria use to develop resistance, the role of antibiotics as animal growth promoters, and the outlook for antibiotics. Drawing on a vast number of interviews with key people in the field, Shnayerson and Plotkin have managed to demonstrate their concern over the future of antibiotics while keeping the scientific background manageable for lay readers. A brief, annotated bibliography and list of web sites adds to the work. An interesting complement to Gerald Grob's The Deadly Truth, which discusses the inevitability of disease, this work also offers readers a riveting update to the section on antibiotics in Laurie Garrett's The Coming Plague. Recommended for public and academic collections.
Tina Neville, Univ. of South Florida at St. Petersburg Lib.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (September 2, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316735663
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316735667
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,166,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 25, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book is scary. According to ethnobotanist Mark J. Plotkin and longtime Vanity Fair contributing editor Michael Shnayerson, the golden age of antibiotics that began with penicillin, a time when it was generally thought that infectious diseases were under control and largely a menace of the past, is over. Our naivete and our arrogance in imagining that we had just about defeated the bugs and could move on to other more pressing public health concerns came to an end in the nineties as one after another of the major human borne bacteria became resistant to our drugs. Through the exchange of DNA, that immunity has been transferred to other bacteria so that, as this book went to press just a few months ago, infectious diseases caused by bacteria are once again a major threat to humans everywhere in the world.
What happened? As the authors explain there are three main problems, (1) the overuse of antibiotics by the medical profession, (2) the misuse of antibiotics as growth enhancers in the meat and poultry industry, and (3) the failure of hospital personnel to follow CDC guidelines on hygiene, especially simply washing their hands.
(1) Too many doctors, either through ignorance or a desire to please their demanding patients, have over-prescribed antibiotics for routine infections, and in some cases actually prescribed antibiotics for viral infections (for which they are useless) "just in case" the patient also gets a bacterial infection. The result of this massive overuse of antibiotics is to give the bugs countless trillions of generational opportunities to evolve defenses against the antibiotic, leading to the antibiotic becoming useless.
(2) Tons of antibiotics--"24.6 million pounds a year," see p.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By K. L Sadler VINE VOICE on November 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Excellent, excellent job done in research and writing by Shnayerson & Plotkin. If the reader is involved in science or public health, the 'news' in this book does not come as a surprise to anyone. It's been known for years among those in these communities that bacteria has been developing resistance to our antibiotics from day one. We get taught this if you work in a lab, because it becomes vitally important to keep everything absolutely sterile and clean. I know it is taught in medical school, but they don't emphasize this enough to medical students and doctors and nurses, because many doctors continue to dispense antibiotics like candy even though they have been warned and warned again by the Center for Disease Control and others.
For those who enjoy reading stuff like this to scare themselves...well, good luck. This is the stuff of nightmares, and if you spend a lot of your time worrying, I certainly wouldn't recommend you read this book. There is always hope, as the authors point out, that researchers will continue to find antibiotics that will temporarily restrain bacterial onslaught. However, be assured this hope has been relied upon in the past, and the bacteria always seem to find a way to mutate around medication, regardless of whether the antibiotics had an organic chemical basis or was a synthetic/man-made one, not seen in nature.
Most of the time, the people who pick up this type of book are already involved and concerned about this public health disaster-in-the-making. Yet these authors are trying to get this information out to the public, and write in such a way as to make this science knowledge understandable. The book starts out slowly, but picks up pace quickly. I had difficulty putting it down after the first couple of chapters.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a reasonably good review of the problem, but there is just too much about the heroic docs and their saddest cases, and too little basic science. The book gets a little tedious and confusing because of this. It would profit from an introductory chapter devoted to the background science, and an appendix you can refer to with a table showing different kinds of antibiotics, possibly a figure explaining how antibiotic-resistance is evaluated (the MIC pops up everywhere, but is not explained well), a list of problem bugs and their acronyms, and another list of the principle mechanisms of resistance. There are web resources (listed) to go to for help-[...] is a good place to start. The current research on nonantibiotic approaches to treating infections(principally antibacterial peptides from amphibians, and phage therapy) was very interesting to me: I have a good background in microbiology, and am probably being a little critical, but the science here was not explained very well.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Robert Adler on December 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a serious book about a very serious subject--the escalating arms race between humans and disease-causing microbes. The bad news is that we're losing, making the emergence of resistant disease causing bacteria "one of the greatest threats to the survival of the human species."
Co-written by Mark Plotkin, a leading ethnobotanist and Michael Schnayerson, a talented writer and editor, The Killers Within is a highly readable, often gripping narrative, full of stories, personalities and drama. At the same time, it presents a lot of the history, science and politics that surround the struggle of medical science to stay a step ahead of the deadly bugs that are proving remarkably adept at evolving ways to defeat our antibiotics.
The authors have no trouble identifying the culprits in this losing battle--an agricultural industry pouring millions of pounds of antibiotics into poultry and livestock as "growth promoters," doctors and patients who overuse antibiotics, and the interaction of profits and politics that determine what kinds of drugs reach the market and when. But behind these lies our naive blindness to the bacterial world's incredible capacity to defeat our most powerful weapons. Bacteria have multiple ways to evolve and swap handy genetic information, such as how to cleave penicillin molecules or pump antibiotics out of their cells. All it takes is one bacteria that survives an antibiotic by evolving a new resistance mechanism; within a few years even unrelated bacteria thousands of miles away will know the trick. It's as easy for the bacteria, the authors write, "as collecting charms on a charm bracelet.
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