By Danny Mejia ’18
Humans have managed to avoid falling off the cliff of extinction for thousands of years now. This can be contributed to many innovations but one not often cited is the invention of antibiotics. The medicine miracle has saved millions of lives since the first antibiotic was discovered in 1928. However in recent years, the steady rise of antibiotic resistance bacteria is spreading fear among the scientific community and scientists are now in a frenzy trying to solve this issue.
What is causing fear is the possibility that in the coming years, the number of drug resistant infections will rise as more bacterial infections stop responding to our current medical arsenal. This would lead to a world where once treatable infections pose a threat to humans.
It may sound extreme to proclaim that a catastrophe might be on the horizon, but that is the consensus a report titled Tackling Drug-Resistant Infections Globally: Final Report and Recommendations by the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance published May 2016, found when it concluded that if left unchecked, drug-resistant infections will kill ten million people a year worldwide by 2050.
Shortly after this prediction, the United Nations’ General Assembly in September 2016 convened and in the end all member countries committed to developing individual national strategies to address the issue. Yet, according to an article by Fern’s AG Insider, the meeting did not give countries any specific target they should aim for nor did it yield any promises for funding research.
This could’ve been an opportunity for world leaders to keep us away from the edge but instead resulted in a vague promise.
However, things may be changing, in early January of this year, the Food and Drug Administration took a bigger step to stemming the issue by banning farmers from giving antibiotics to animals to make them gain weight. It also banned farmers from buying antibiotics in a feed store or over the Internet with no veterinary oversight.
The move isn’t going to solve this issue and the author of “2017 Could Be A Terrible Tipping Point for Antibiotic Resistance” published January 2017 on The Food Revolution Network points out the ban doesn’t outlaw giving antibiotics to animals to prevent them from getting sick, which is a common practice on large farms where the conditions can reach repulsive levels.
Still, the move will definitely help in lowering the amount of antibiotics used in agriculture in the US, which, according to the FDA, in 2014 toppled an estimated 33 million pounds. However, what should follow are international control programs designed to lower the number of antibiotics used globally, especially in the developing world where rules are lacking. After all, emerging economies such as Brazil are seeing an increase in meat exporting and the increasing demand can pressure ranchers to use antibiotics.
We must remember that the more antibiotics we use, the more we accelerate the rate of resistance regardless of where they are used, and that implementing bans or changing policies in rich countries won’t stop resistance from continuing to develop in less developed nations.
Doctors can also help in lowering the rate of resistance by only handing out prescriptions when necessary. Currently however, this isn’t the case in the US seeing as the CDC reported that doctors handed out 266 million courses of antibiotics in 2014. Apparently, doctors overprescribe because of diagnostic uncertainty and patient demand according to the FDA. Based on this, patients must also restrain themselves from demanding medication, especially when they suffer from viral infections like the common cold because antibiotics do nothing to combat viral illnesses.
Other sources that promote resistance are the overuse of over-the-counter antibiotics, the ability to buy antibiotics online, and the overuse of antibacterial products such as hand soaps and disinfecting wipes according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information in their report titled “The Antibiotic Resistance Crisis” published April 2015.
As you can see, there are many ways world leaders and everyday people can help in this fight but while we work to lower the rate of resistance scientists are working to end resistance and maybe even reverse it. Potential solutions range from developing a molecule that reverses antibiotic resistance to modifying current antibiotics so that they attack resistant bacteria.
However, the biggest development so far came at the end of March when an article was published in Medical Press that discussed a procedure in which researchers replaced antibodies from two patients suffering from a resistant infection and observed an improvement in their health. This method may prove to be a breakthrough in the fight against antibiotic resistance because the procedure reduced the reliance on antibiotics while reducing the effects of a resistant infection.
The biggest takeaway from the work scientists are doing is that there is still hope. We can close the door on the post-antibiotic era by working together thereby ensuring a safe future for the next generation.