Our Ticking Time Bomb: Antibiotic Resistance

According to the World Health Organization, antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest threats to global health today. It is an indiscriminate killer, capable of adversely affecting any individual regardless of their age, gender, or nationality. While it is true to suggest that antibiotic resistance is a natural process, unfortunately the gross misuse of antibiotics in both humans and animals is accelerating this process at a much faster rate. As a result, for the first time since the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928, antibiotics are beginning to be ineffective against certain resistant bacteria leading to prolonged infection and in many cases death.

What is antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotics are primarily used to treat bacterial infections. Unfortunately bacteria will adapt to these antibiotic medicines over time, eventually becoming antibiotic resistant. Unless newer and more potent antibiotics are discovered and produced en masse, these antibiotic resistant bacteria are free to infect antibiotic_resistancehumans and animals unimpeded. In short, the more an antibiotic is used, the less effective it will become.

What are the likely effects of antibiotic resistance?

The likely result of antibiotic resistance is a marked increase in people suffering from severe bacterial infection and many complications associated with it such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and blood poisoning. According to the World Health Organization, in the European Union alone, it is estimated that antibiotic resistant bacteria are the primary cause of over 25,000 deaths a year and cost in excess of $1.5 billion per annum in healthcare costs. These figures are projected to increase significantly throughout the course of this century.

Can antibiotic resistance be prevented and controlled?

Antibiotic resistance can definitely be prevented and controlled. Part of the problem with the marked increase in antibiotic resistance is the fact that global attitudes to antibiotics is founded on the premise that they will always be around to treat bacterial infection. This view is not only inaccurate but highly dangerous. Antibiotics should only be prescribed when absolutely needed by a patient or an animal. In short, they should only ever be used as a ‘last resort’. This in itself would go a long way in helping to control the spread of antibiotic resistance by both limiting the exposure of bacteria to antibiotics and thus limiting the ability of bacteria to adapt to antibiotic medicines.

In addition, antibiotic resistance can be further controlled by individuals changing their behavior and hygiene habits to include improved food hygiene, regular hand washing and ensuring that they are up to date with all necessary vaccinations. By preventing bacterial infection in the first place, antibiotics may be in effect made redundant. In other words, prevention of bacterial infection naturally results in the prevention of antibiotic resistance.