By: Pooja Sharma
Antibiotics are a class of drugs that curb or restrain the growth of bacteria in both humans as well as animals. Antibiotic resistance or antimicrobial resistance (AMR) develops when the bacteria are able to grow and multiply – even after antibiotic use has been put into action. Recently, AMR has gone farther than expected by the researchers. Here are some more details about this scary – and current – issue.
How bad is Antibiotic Resistance right now?
Antibiotic resistance is becoming very disturbing, getting closer and closer to home, sickening humans and animals all around, and rendering expensive life-saving drugs useless.
These statistics prove this shocking statement:
- THEY ARE IN FOOD. Research presented at ASM Microbe 2017 at California State University, Northridge showed that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are found in many ready-to-eat foods (both organic and non-organic) and dairy products. These products are directly linked to human exposure to resistant bacteria affecting about 2 million people across the USA and resulting in an additional $35 billion of health care costs. (1);
- THIS IS HAPPENING NOW. A video by Harvard earlier this year showed that an Antibiotic Doomsday could kill around 10 million a year by 2050. The video clearly exemplifies how easy it is for bacteria to survive and thrive after being exposed to antibiotics. (2)
- EVEN IN COUNTRIES WITH GOOD HEALTHCARE. A combined 50,000 people of the United States and United Kingdom are already dying each year from untreatable infections. Of these, 12,000 people dying from AMR in the United Kingdom is statistically more than the deaths caused by breast cancer.
- CASE STUDY. The most recent case of AMR happened on January 12, 2017, where a woman in Nevada died after her body developed resistance to 29 different classes of antibiotics. Even though this is not the first time that the United States experienced an untreatable bacterial infection, but this particular case was the first in which bacteria was resistant to the antibiotic of the last resort. It is a wake-up call on how bad AMR can get. (3)
- Antibiotic Resistance cases have also quadrupled for Gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted illness. (4)
AMR has already been found to be present in an antimalarial antibiotic, Artemisinin and third generation cephalosporins in various parts of the world.
All these stats indicate that the situation is pretty bad and getting worse over time. Maximum current treatments are becoming impotent day by day and alternative options have still not paved their way into the drugstores. After a while, even smaller infections would require higher doses of medicine to get treated. Other serious diseases we have controlled, like tuberculosis and pneumonia, could even become fatal again.
What causes antimicrobial resistance?
Increased usage of antibiotics for even the smallest of infection is the most crucial factor contributing towards antimicrobial resistance. Antibiotics are the most commonly prescribed drug by doctors all around the world, but only 50% of the time the dosage or the duration is optimally prescribed. Any incorrect use of antibiotics will lead to some form of drug-resistant action in your body. There are various ways in which AMR develops. Here are the top two:
- Our bodies are made up of both good bacteria and bad bacteria. When we are killing off the bad ones, we might also kill off the good ones. The good bacteria in our body helps to prevent many diseases, and also helps in proper functioning of some organs, like gut bacteria is essential for digestion. Without the presence of good bacteria, the bad ones might grow quickly even with the antibiotics.
- Another reason of AMR in the human body is that the bad bacteria has learned how to counter the antibiotic by evolving itself – so as to appear harmless. Some learn how to change their shape before the antibiotic attaches to them while others just push the antibiotic out of their body.
Other reasons for AMR are when a person eats an animal that already has antibiotic resistant bacteria present in it or when a person comes in contact with someone who is already infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
What is the plan of action to fight this global issue?
Recently, the WHO made a major change in the history of EML (Essential Medicines List) by grouping antibiotics into three categories:
- Access: This subdivision of antibiotics will be available at all times as this includes treatment for a wide range of infections. They will be the first line of treatment for a number of infections, e.g. Amoxicillin, that can be used to fight pneumonia.
- Watch: This group consists of antibiotics that can be used for the first or second choice of drugs but only for a limited number of recommendations. They have a higher resistance potential. Examples include:
- Ciprofloxacin – that is used to treat Cystitis, a kind of Urinary Tract Infection and Respiratory Tract Infections.
- Third-Generation Cephalosporins
- Reserve group is the ‘last resort’ antibiotics which include fourth and fifth generation of cephalosporins, aztreonam, etc. They should only be used when all the other substitutes have failed, i.e. in the case of life-threatening, multi-drug resistant infections.
This list will help the health care providers to prescribe only the antibiotics that are needed by the individual in order to seize the growing antibiotic resistance problem. The objective is to provide right antibiotics for the right situations. The WHO is also working toward creating an improvised plan of global action so as to combat AMR all over the world.
What can we do to prevent ourselves and the community against AMR?
Preventing yourself from getting infections and building immunity should be the first step towards solving AMR. Immunization, washing hands, eating healthy, following safety food standards and using antibiotics only as per the guidance of your doctor is really important.
Eat probiotic-rich foods and also include some natural antibiotics like Manuka Honey, garlic, turmeric, etc. to keep the infections at bay as much as possible.
Healthcare professionals should take extra care while prescribing antibiotics. They need to follow the guidelines and provide immunization to their patients beforehand. Cooperating with the community for controlling the present situation and also, contribute towards the research will help in both short term and long term.
AMR is becoming a pressing issue with some researchers even putting it on the same level as terrorism. The golden age of antibiotics is over. After being taken for granted, antibiotics are all set to shock the world. The politicians, medical analysts, health officials etc. needs to realize the failure of creating new antibiotics would cause a global epidemic. Educating new generation about the harmful effects that antibiotics can have is also important. The time for action is NOW.