5 Realities of a Post-antibiotic World

More Spending on Infections, Elective Surgeries Become Obsolete
Not a lot of new antibiotics being approved by these guys lately. © Jason Reed/Reuters/Corbis

Antibiotics offer a quick fix to many problems. They quickly get people in and out of doctors' offices, they help us to avoid surgery, they even help us during surgery to stop potential infections. But when antibiotics can no longer serve in the same capacity, how will that affect health care systems in developed countries?

The number of superbug incidences is climbing steeply. Meanwhile, the number of new antibiotics approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has plunged, largely due to small profit margins for pharmaceutical companies for the investment in developing different antibiotics [sources: McArdle; Kuchment].

The focus of the U.S. health care system will have to shift drastically to accommodate this disparity, with a lot more spending earmarked for infections and a lot less for everything else. In some ways though, superbugs may actually reduce costs. People won't have elective surgeries, there would be no transplant surgeries, and to be blunt, people will die much earlier, so we won't be treating people for various ailments into their 80s and 90s.

That said, the costs of treating infections would rise dramatically. When popping a few antibiotic pills doesn't work anymore, we'll have to turn to other resources such as using intravenous antibiotics, obviously a much more expensive endeavor, especially for something as seemingly trivial as an ear infection.