Dame Sally Davies, who is the Chief Medical Officer of England, hit global headlines recently when she once again warned everyone of a forthcoming “post-antibiotic apocalypse.” Even the World Health Organization has warned of future medical disasters as they claim that we are “heading towards a post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and [will] once again kill unabated.” The question is how exactly did we get to this point? More importantly, what are the best ways in which to protect ourselves as scientists rush to discover antibiotic alternatives and some brand new classes of bacteria fighting medicines?
The Evils of Over Prescribing Antibiotics
For almost a century now, we have seen antibiotics being overprescribed, misunderstood and under-regulated. Ironically the problem has come about because antibiotics have been so effective. It is this reason that doctors and patients have become too reliant upon them – as they are virtually used for everything from tuberculosis to acne, and from pneumonia to gonorrhea. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is actually not new at all—even the creator of antibiotics, Sir Walter Fleming, warned us about this during his lecture as Nobel Prize winner. But the problem now is that it is accelerating. For many years we would see scientists frantically bringing new antibiotics to the market in order to replace the older ineffective ones, we now find ourselves decades behind in deploying and discovering new antibiotics.
Super Bacteria Reaching Nightmarish Levels
All the while, even more super bacteria are growing more resistant to the existing antibiotics. “Nightmare bacteria” or “superbugs” as they are call have grown, with major findings by economist Jim O’Neill recently indicating by the year 2050 than as many as 10 million people could be dying every year from AMR – which is as much as the people that die from diabetes and cancer combined. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that at least 2 million folks in the United States get infected from antibiotic resistant bacteria every year, and as many as 23,000 die from these infections.
Surprisingly, most people don’t talk about AMR with the same urgency as they would when facing cancer or diabetes. The big problem, claims Davies, has become “[AMR] does not really have a ‘face’ because most people who die of drug-resistant infections, their families just think they died of an uncontrolled infection. It will only get worse unless we take strong action everywhere across the globe. We need some real work on the ground to make a difference or we risk the end of modern medicine.”
In order to make real progress that is meaningful, countries have to uncover ways to link the efforts of scientists and doctors, with industry and academia. Recently, the World Health Organization hosted an Antibiotics Awareness Week to encourage corporations, organizations and countries all over the world to increase their urgency and make some new strides with in AMR research and overall awareness.
The common denominator with campaigns like these has to be consumer empowerment. As more and more people become aware of the dangers behind taking antibiotics needlessly, then hopefully they will begin looking for ways to prevent infections in the first place. The WHO has always recommended people to begin by washing their hands regularly, and to prepare and take proper care of food, avoid coming in contact with those who are sick, practice safe sex and to keep their vaccinations current.