How watching the coronavirus crisis unravel is like looking inside a crystal ball

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Entire cities quarantined. Indefinite flight suspensions. Global supply chains frozen. The effects of the effort to contain the spread of coronavirus may feel dystopian, but they actually offer a realistic glimpse at the outlook of infectious disease should society continue fueling antibiotic resistance and fail to innovate infection control protocol.

It’s a not so distant future, either. As panic grows about COVID-19, most individuals fail to recognize the significant, persistent threats we presently face. Seasonal influenza, for one, already kills tens of thousands of Americans each year. Bacterial pathogens mount a formidable challenge with their ability to quickly develop antibiotic resistance and once reliable antibiotics are no longer useful. Many of the acronyms sprinkled throughout infectious disease nomenclature point to exactly which ones: methicillin, referred to in “methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus,” or MRSA, for example.

Pathogens behind commonly treated conditions like whooping cough are evolving to become harder to trace and treat. It’s happening faster than we can stem the abuse and overuse of antibiotics, and faster than healthcare providers are moving to bolster their infection control protocol. Even in cases where less threatening pathogens are at play, simple steps towards prevention are being neglected, such as the hospitals waiting until after a fatal Aspergillus outbreak to replace air filtration systems.

All of this without mentioning that the pipeline of new antibiotic development is all but dried up, and national budget cuts may leave us with fewer professionals trained in infection prevention.

What does this all mean? The review of infection prevention best practices and infection control policies should be ongoing and proactive, not infrequent and reactive. With each new menacing microbe offering basic yet befuddling questions such as how long it survives on common surfaces and the best method for disinfection, neither keeping the status quo with a “tried and true” approach nor hesitating to mobilize resources with a “wait and see” approach is appropriate.

We challenge healthcare providers across every field to a relentless pursuit of innovation when it comes to infection prevention and control, and we challenge them to start now.