Q&A: ‘It’s Far Worse Than COVID’

December 28, 2020
Frank Diamond

Ravi Starzl, PhD: “If you’re constantly focused on trying to escalate the war of destruction, I think that the bacteria will always win that war. They just have too many countermeasures available to them and our rate of developing new antibiotics is far slower than their rate of developing countermeasures.”

We will eventually win the war against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), now that the vaccines have entered the fray. Those miracles of modern medicine, along with the low-tech infection prevention methods—hand hygiene, social distancing, masking—will eventually lead to the herd immunity that will then eventually lead us back to our old lives, or some semblance of our old lives, at least so say the experts. One of the important lessons of the pandemic, says Ravi Starzl, PhD, an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University and the CEO of a company called BioPix, is that pandemics can indeed happen and can indeed disrupt the entire world. COVID-19 is caused by a virus. The danger that Starzl worries about are the Superbugs, which are for the most part bacterial and which can shrug off any antibiotics that are thrown at it. (BioPix’s stated mission is to combat Superbugs. Just to name one: methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus--MRSA.) Starlz explains to Infection Control Today® just what makes the Superbugs such a threat; one that will be with us long after COVID-19 (hopefully) goes away. Medicine cannot hope to win a war with Superbugs, Starlz contends. These bacteria can rely on billions of years of evolutionary development in which they’ve overcome some variant of man-made antibiotics. “By the year 2050, we will have very few options indeed, against antimicrobial resistant bacteria, at which point basic things like surgery, simple broken-bone mending, will become very complicated,” Starlz tells ICT®. “The one lesson that we can learn from COVID-19 is to not take pandemics lightly. They can occur, and they can totally change the world we live in. And when you’re looking at something that jeopardizes the entire foundation of modern medicine, like antimicrobial resistance, and the mechanisms that bacteria are using to share that information and spread antimicrobial resistance amongst their populations, we really need to take it extremely seriously. Because it’s far worse than COVID-19.” Starlz says that the way to defeat Superbugs is by keeping “them out of your microbiome in the first place by managing the niches that they could occupy by replacing those niches with non-antimicrobial resistant cousins that can exclude them from your microbiome.”