Since the discovery of penicillin about 85 years ago, antibiotics have revolutionized healthcare and modern medicine, becoming the bedrock of many great medical advances of the century. From a small cut and root canal to infections and childbirth, antibiotics have marked their presence everywhere. They are the wonder drugs on which modern medicine and our health hinges. However, there is a scary side to antibiotics, too. Overuse or misuse has contributed to the phenomenon of antibiotic resistance.
What Is Antimicrobial (Antibiotic) Resistance (AMR)?
While we found a way to outsmart the bugs, they didn’t fall behind in the race either. Bacteria and other pathogens have evolved naturally and resistance to antibiotics is a consequence of such natural selection. Infection-causing bugs usually multiply or grow in millions and, during this, a few of them may develop a genetic mutation that makes these bugs superior to our pharmaceuticals. In the presence of antibiotics, while the non-resistant bugs will die, the ones with the genetic mutation survive. These further multiply in millions and transfer the drug-resistant gene to their offspring, adding to the pool of superbugs.
What Causes Antibiotic Resistance?
The primary cause is the use of broad spectrum antibiotics, which greatly contribute to resistance. According to Venki Ramakrishnan, a Noble Prize-winning chemist based in the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at the University of Cambridge, “The problem of resistance is due to an abuse of antibiotics. Many people will go to a doctor and demand an antibiotic when they have a cold or a flu, for which these antibacterial compounds are useless. In many countries, it is possible to buy antibiotics over the counter. Often, if people are poor, they will not take the full dose—all of that leads to resistance.”
Incorrect diagnosis, unnecessary prescriptions and incorrect or improper use of prescribed antibiotics by patients all contribute to the rising resistance.
Some of the evolved drug resistant bugs are Stapylococcus aureus, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Streptococcus pneumoniae, E.coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and many others. They can cause a range of illnesses, including skin infections, tuberculosis, diarrhea, pneumonia and abscesses.
Why Should We Care?
Imagine you have an infection as common as the flu and you visit the doctor in the hope of an antibiotic only to realize that they aren’t useful anymore. The power we have over several infectious diseases will suddenly become useless and these infections will keep coming back. Efforts made to control high mortality and very infectious diseases such as malaria and HIV could all get reversed and these diseases can once again spiral out of control. The threshold of risk of an infection from any organism or in any procedure will rise dramatically in the absence of antibiotics to fend them off. Some scientists fear that this situation, if not addressed, can drive us back to the dark pre-antibiotic age.
Is There A Way Around This Problem?
According to Dr Ramakrishnan, “Antibiotics should be used as a last resort. Apart from general preventive measures like public health and hygiene, vaccines can be of enormous benefit.” He further adds that people now move all over the world, so if resistance emerges in one place it can very quickly spread to other places. So it needs a concerted attack—it is a broad social problem and thus urges governments to come together in a worldwide agreement to establish certain guidelines for public use of antibiotics.
A few steps you can take and contribute to your fight against these superbugs are:
- Do not pop OTC antibiotics without talking to your healthcare provider.
- Always complete the full course of the drug as prescribed by your doctor.
- Do not skip doses or keep antibiotics for later use.
- Never take antibiotics prescribed for someone else.
- You can try natural remedies to fight off infections and strengthen your immune system. They will not only eliminate your need to pop those foul smelling pills but also empower you from within. (Related Article: 5 Natural Antibiotics You Probably Didn’t Know About)