Book review: Superbugs

Compelling tale of medical ingenuity in the race to stop an epidemic

Book Reviews

Read doctor and researcher Matt McCarthy's exhilarating tale of a race to beat superbugs.


DRUG-resistant bacteria - superbugs - are one of the biggest threats of our time. We're in a race to beat them to save countless lives.

Matt McCarthy, a doctor, researcher and ethics professor, tells the exhilarating story of his attempts to beat superbugs in his new book, Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic.

It's a compelling tale of medical ingenuity.

McCarthy meets mechanic Jackson in the emergency department, where he has come for treatment of an infected gunshot wound. Normally antibiotics would be prescribed, but the infection is one of a growing number of superbugs: bacteria that have built up resistance to known drugs.

He has only one option, and if that doesn't work Jackson may lose his leg or his life.

That same day, McCarthy and his mentor Tom Walsh begin work on a groundbreaking clinical trial for a new antibiotic they believe will eradicate certain kinds of superbugs. They hope to show "Big Pharma" that investment in these drugs can save millions of lives and also prove financially viable.

There are countless hoops to jump through before they can begin administering the drug to patients; and for people like Jackson, time is in short supply.

From the muddy trenches of World War I, where Alexander Fleming searched for a cure for soldiers with infected wounds, to breakthroughs in antibiotics and antifungals today that could revolutionist how infections are treated, McCarthy takes us on a roller-coaster ride through the history - and future - of medicine.

Along the way we meet patients like teenage Remy who has a dangerous and rare infection; retired firefighter Donny who has a compromised immune system; and the author's own father-in-law Bill, who contracts a deadly staph infection.

We also learn about the ethics of medical research: why potentially life-saving treatments are often delayed for years to protect patients from exploitation.

Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic, by Matt McCarthy (Scribe), RRP $32.99.