A Threat Deadlier Than Climate Change: Antibiotic Resistance
By Matt Farrah, Nurses.co.uk
In 2019, England’s Chief Medical Officer warned that antimicrobial resistance might cause the death of around 10 million people every year. This is a threat that may overtake climate change in causing humanity’s extinction.
What are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are drugs that are designed to either destroy bacteria or slow down their growth. They can cost billions of euros and take years to develop. Unfortunately, they don’t work against fungal or viral infections which means there’s no point in taking them for coughs, colds or influenza.
The problem is that resistance to these drugs is growing rapidly. Professor Dame Sally Davies noted that the number of bugs immune to antibiotics is on the rise, with a variety of causes being cited, including:
- The high volume of people carrying harmful bacteria
- Overuse of antibiotics
- Non-adherence to prescribed hygiene practice
These are also the primary reasons why numerous large infection outbreaks occur in hospital. In this setting, many patients are susceptible due to their weak immune systems.
When a particular bacteria strain becomes resistant to antibiotics, treatment is often difficult or even impossible. There are also cases where these resistant bacteria will pass their genes to other strains.
Antibiotic resistance in farming and the environment
The farming industry also uses antibiotics to protect livestock from bacterial infection. However, in some countries, farmers administer these drugs in low doses as a preventive measure or even to promote growth. Unfortunately, both the drug and the anti-resistant bacteria can escape farms and contaminate the local food chain and environment.
Nurses.co.uk published an article in which Dame Sally proposed that, in order to protect the British public, the UK should stop importing beef and other meats from countries that misuse antibiotics.
Why do humans need antibiotics?
Every day, you can encounter bacteria that could potentially be harmful to your health. For instance:
- Due to injury, even if it’s just a small scratch
- When you have been exposed to a contaminated environment
- After undergoing a medical procedure (ranging from dental work to cancer therapy)
Doctors administer antibiotics to people with a bacterial infection, a condition where the uncontrolled growth of harmful bacteria can cause cell damage. These bacteria also excrete toxins that are harmful to the human body. Usually, people’s immune systems can fight off the bacteria. However, if the infection is too strong, they will need antibiotics to help the body recover.
Currently, around 46,000 people die from sepsis in the UK every year, it is a severe condition where harmful bacteria invade an individual’s bloodstream or tissues. The primary treatment for sepsis is antibiotics. Otherwise, the infection could lead to organ failure, shock and ultimately death.
The UK’s response
By 2014, the UK had reduced antibiotic use by almost 10% and by around 40% in livestock. However, drug-resistant infections still increased by more than 30% between 2013 and 2017.
Dame Sally laments the apparent lack of concern for the potential doomsday disaster. In her view, despite the vital importance of this subject, not enough is being done in terms of research.
If the current antibiotics being used are no longer effective, then even minor infections such as a skin wound could cause death. There is a need to reduce the usage of antibiotics in both humans and agriculture. It is pointless continuing to manufacture powerful drugs if bacteria can develop resistance to them in a short period of time. Antibiotics should only be used when necessary. Furthermore, medical researchers should find safer alternatives that can overcome resistant bacteria and therefore treat people and animals successfully.