The Threat of Antibiotic Resistance

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More than eight decades ago, the discovery of antibiotics caused a revolution in the treatment of infections, transforming once deadly diseases that killed thousands every year into manageable health problems, treatable by a simple course of antibiotics.

Gone were the days when a minor cut could cause a fatal infection or the loss of a limb, or when a stubborn case of pneumonia could lead to serious complications and eventually death. The miracle of antibiotics changed all that, tremendously increasing life expectancy, easing human suffering, and hence changing our world forever into a much safer place.

Or so we thought!

Now scientists are warning that, in the very near future, the use of antibiotics may cease to be useful, and our world maybe transformed back to the pre-antibiotic era.

It turns out that antibiotics, as powerful as they maybe, have one major flaw: they are unable to kill each and every bacterium, allowing those immune to them to thrive and multiply in numbers, leading to the phenomena called “bacterial resistance”.

Set off by the use and abuse of antibiotics, bacterial resistance has now reached an all-time high. Health officials around the world are calling the phenomena a “ticking time bomb” and a threat as dangerous as global warming.

Watch this video as Professor Karl Klose, University of Texas, talks about the global crisis of antibiotic resistance and warns of “the rise of the superbug”.

Although there were low levels of preexisting antibiotic-resistant bacteria before the widespread use of antibiotics, evolutionary stress on a population from their use has played the major role in the development of multidrug resistance varieties and the spread of resistance between bacterial species.

One of the biggest factors compounding to the phenomena is the gross over-prescribing of antibiotics by doctors, who find it safer to prescribe them in many cases even when they are unwarranted and ineffective, such as in the treatment of viral infections as the common cold.

Similarly when diagnoses are not accurately made and the causative micro-organism is not known, doctors prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics, antibiotics that kill a large proportion of various bacteria and not only the bacteria responsible for the disease.

In some countries, including Egypt, antibiotics are sold over the counter without a prescription, which most likely leads to their overuse, creating many more resistant strains.

Other practices contributing towards resistance include the uncontrolled antibiotic use in agriculture for farmed animals and fish.

Although the problem of antibiotic resistance has long been recognized, and despite the warning of scientists all over the world, it has not yet been prioritized by nations as the major area of concern that it truly is. Coordinated action is largely absent, especially at the political level, both nationally and internationally.

No new classes of antibiotics have been developed since 1987, and none are in the pipeline across the world.  Working with pharmaceutical companies to produce new classes of antibiotics and address the discovery void is now essential, but so is correcting the compounding human behavior at many levels of society.

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