In 2014, the World Health Organization took a first look into antimicrobial resistance – including antibiotic resistance – and discovered that this threat was no longer a prediction for the future, it was already happening in every part of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, any age, in any country.
Antibiotic resistance refers to the morphing of bacteria so antibiotics no longer work in people who need them to treat infections – this is a serious threat to public health. Imagine going to war against an enemy and your best weapons are no longer effective in subduing them, that is where we are headed.
“Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars helping us to live longer, live healthier and benefit from modern medicine.”
Enter The Superbugs
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus has posed a huge problem in many hospital wards and clinics. Creating more infectious organisms that are resistant to antibiotics means we are heading towards a future where we can no longer treat infections and people will have to die of the flimsiest illnesses. Think of chest infections like pneumonia, sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea and so on.
Where Do Superbugs Come From?
Every time you use an antibiotic, it kills some but not all of the bacteria it was intended for, especially when adherence is poor. The surviving microorganisms, mutate, i.e modify their genetic material so that they are no longer vulnerable to the drug.
Antimicrobial resistance is occurring across many different infection causing organisms including seven different bacteria responsible for common serious diseases like diarrhoea, sepsis, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhea. Resistance to antibiotics of last resort have been documented in all parts of the world.
Antibiotic resistance means people battling infections get to spend more time and money fighting their diseases, meaning they get to be sick for longer and pay more for healthcare. It also means there is an increased risk of spread to caregivers and relatives.
Everyone Is Responsible
Doctors and patients alike have contributed to making the antibiotics that we have relied on for over 70 years ineffective.
Patients are quick to ask for antibiotics which they now go on to misuse and abuse in numerous ways. Not all infections require antibiotics – especially viral infections; antibiotics do not work for viral infections, some of them are clearly self-limiting. A little symptomatic relief would do just fine. No need to bring out the bazookas.
The commonly held belief that antibiotics are a cure-all for all ailments serves to make matters worse. People are quick to grab antibiotics at the slightest hint of an illness, this only helps bugs become familiar with antibiotics thereby blowing our cover.
Doctors are usually willing to comply, partly because they want to keep their patients happy and partly because doing so is faster than running investigations to confirm the cause.
Even outside of the Doctor’s clinic, we abuse antimicrobials, from antimicrobial hand rubs to antibacterial cleaning products, we are giving microbes too many opportunities to become familiar with the weapons in our arsenal – and those microbes have shown they are smarter than we think. Often, washing and cleaning with soap and water is good enough.
A greater cause for concern is the fact that major pharmaceutical companies have abandoned research and design for new antibiotics even as superbugs proliferate around the world.
“Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating.”
How Can We Stop This?
Infection control – better hygiene, access to clean water, and vaccination to
the need for antibiotics to start with.
Use drugs properly – Finish antibiotics even after you start feeling better, don’t share antibiotics with a person that seemingly has similar symptoms with you and don’t use left-over medications because you have the same symptoms as you did the last time.
Judicious prescribing and use of antibiotics – using antibiotics only when prescribed by doctors and ensuring drug adherence. Use antibiotic creams only when prescribed by a doctor. Wash with soap and water only. Avoid antibacterial hand rubs.
Get vaccinated – it is our best defense against infections
The war against drug resistance requires combined effort and we are equally affected by the actions of every other person. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to use drugs responsibly.