Post-antibiotic era; a world to be worried about
When we talk about antibiotics, we don’t really put much emphasis on the subject because most people tend to think “it’s just antibiotics”. Recent research is, however, suggesting otherwise. The term antibiotics is used for medicines that are used to treat or prevent some types of bacterial infection. They work by killing bacteria or preventing them from reproducing and spreading. Before scientists first discovered antibiotics in the 1920s, many people died from minor bacterial infections, like an ear infection. Surgery also bared higher risks. But after antibiotics became available in the 1940s, life expectancy increased, surgeries got safer, and what used to be known as deadly infections soon became minor infections.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in response to the use of these medicines. Bacteria, not humans or animals, become antibiotic-resistant. These bacteria may infect humans and animals, and the infections they cause are harder to treat than those caused by non-resistant bacteria.
Antibiotic resistance is rising to dangerously high levels in all parts of the world. New resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading globally, threatening our ability to treat common infectious diseases. A growing list of infections – such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning, gonorrhea, and foodborne diseases – are becoming harder, and sometimes impossible, to treat as antibiotics become less effective.
Where antibiotics can be bought for human or animal use without a prescription, the emergence and spread of resistance is made worse. Similarly, in countries without standard treatment guidelines, antibiotics are often over-prescribed by health workers and veterinarians and over-used by the public.
Without urgent action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill.
Unfortunately, many of the large pharmaceutical companies have closed down their antibiotic research divisions. Drugs like those used to treat cancer are often given for life and so provide a sufficient income stream to pharmaceutical companies to warrant research investment. Whenever a new antibiotic is introduced, it is not long before bacteria become resistant to it. If a new antibiotic is reserved only for use in treating resistant infections, then most of the time it will sit on the pharmacy shelf not being used until a patient presents with an antibiotic resistant infection. We must therefore provide all the support we can as individuals to prevent the rise in antibiotic resistance.
What can you do?
- Only use antibiotics when prescribed by a certified health professional.
- Never demand antibiotics if your health worker says you don’t need them.
- Always follow your health worker’s advice when using antibiotics.
- Never share or use leftover antibiotics.
- Prevent infections by regularly washing hands, preparing food hygienically, avoiding close contact with sick people, practicing safer sex and keeping vaccinations up to date.
- Prepare food hygienically, following the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food (keep clean, separate raw and cooked, cook thoroughly, keep food at safe temperatures, use safe water and raw materials) and choose foods that have been produced without the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention in healthy animals.
The responsibility lies with us as individuals alongside healthcare professionals, policy makers, healthcare industry and the agriculture sector.