Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Far too many believe the antibiotic is the panacea or cure-all for all their illnesses. This misconception among others must be put to rest immediately. Antibiotics, for the uninitiated, are drugs made for treating bacterial infections (Strep throat, for example, would be treated with an antibiotic). They would not be used to treat the common cold or flu because those illnesses are caused by viruses.
To explain antimicrobial/antibiotic resistance, we’ll use a
clever metaphor. Imagine playing a game or a sport. In order to win, you develop strategies to try to ensure your victory. You won’t use the same strategy every time because then it would be predictable. If you use any one too often, your opponent will be able to spot the weaknesses and exploit them. Now, antibiotics are the strategies we, as humans use against the bacterial infections afflicting us. Evolution is the bacteria’s natural defense against the strategy. Mutations breed bacteria that have a better chance of survival against the antibiotic, or plays by a different defensive strategy.
The bacteria that are genetically resistant will be only ones able to replicate their DNA and repopulate. Their mutations yield even more genetic variability causing the rise of these resistant superbugs. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 23,000 people (out of 2 million) who get infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria die as a result of the infections (2013 estimates). Many professionals agree this is a serious issue. A recent study has shown that 30 percent of prescriptions for antibiotics are unnecessary. In order to keep our lead on the ever-evolving landscape of microscopic bacterium, we must do our best to be informed. Medications must be taken exactly as instructed.
This means if the dose is to be taken for a week, it must be taken until that time is up. Even if you ‘feel better’ before you finish the dose, you must continue until you have taken the appropriate amount for the designated number of days. Thinking that new antibiotics are being actively produced by companies is flawed. It’s deferring the responsibility you have as an informed person to others. Pharmaceutical companies haven’t been developing more antibiotics due to financial reasons. The latest class of antibiotics for gram-negative bacteria was developed about 40 years ago (quinolone).
This a serious issue and although it seems like much is out of your hands, knowledge is the first step to help in the fight to slow antibiotic resistance. Here’s what you can do to help prevent resistance:
- Antibiotic sanitation products? Use them sparingly. Plain soap (without all the frills of “antibiotic protection”) and water does the trick nearly all the time. Save the alcohol-based hand sanitizer for travel in order to prevent the spread of disease.
- If your doctor says that antibiotics aren’t required for your treatment, don’t insist on getting prescribed them.
- Don’t give your antibiotics to others, and don’t take antibiotics that weren’t prescribed to you.
- “No antibiotics added”; Avoid buying meats from places that utilize antibiotics to keep their livestock healthy in poor conditions. Even though antibiotic overuse is evident for human use, 80 percent of the antibiotics in the U.S. are given to animals, such as cows, chickens etc. to keep them healthy.
The shot of (micro) fiction below relates to the idea of a troubling future with extremely limited antibiotics, where developing them is an arduous task, but is necessary to safeguard the health of the public. If people make more informed decisions, the dystopian scenario could be avoided.
“Will it work?”
“The preliminary test results are promising, but in our field of work, you should know by now that there aren’t any certainties.”
“But we’re one of the only ones left working on this.” said Howard the technician.
“Yes, only because we have government backing and we’ve been working since before this thing blindsided us.”
“It has to work.” replied the technician meekly.
“The superbugs are going to be held off for now if this runs well.”
“How many do we have so far, Davis?”
“2” He sensed the worry in his assistant’s face as he kept talking. “Don’t worry, if this one comes through that’ll be 3!”
“Yeah, just peachy.” Howard wasn’t having it.
The results came in the next morning, but Davis got to them first. His face scrunched up as he skimmed the page. Howard walked in a bit after, looking expectantly at him.
“It’s a success.”
“Really? That’s great! It worked out after all…” Davis wasn’t paying much attention to Howard’s excited chatter. “Let’s send word of this to the higher ups!” Davis simply nodded in response. Yes, he thought, this is revolutionary but it’s just a quick-fix. While he sunk into deep thought, Howard had practically skipped out of the room to collect his raise. With a sigh, Davis pulled up information on another potential antibiotic. He knew there was still more work to be done.