Antibiotic use is at an all-time global high. But what does that mean for the future?
The discovery of penicillin in 1929 was a game-changer. Since then, millions of people have received antibiotics to effectively treat serious illnesses.
But overuse has become a significant issue. There are dangers of too much antibiotics, but there are ways everyone can help.
Antibiotics can be life-saving. But overuse can lead to a real problem: antibiotic resistance. It happens when bacteria change to resist the effects of the medicine.
“People have to remember that bacteria have been on this earth for 4 billion years," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, of the University of Pittsburgh. "So, it’s not a surprise that bacteria are able to outwit us.”
Experts believe about one-third of antibiotics prescribed in the U.S. are unnecessary. And a new report that examined consumption in 76 countries found the use of antibiotics increased 39 percent from 2000 to 2015.
Researchers estimate that if nothing changes, up to 10 million deaths worldwide could be attributed to antibiotic resistance by 2050.
“We’re running out of antibiotics, and we’re now left in certain scenarios with telling a patient we have nothing to offer them,” Adalja said.
So, what can you do? First, if you use an antibiotic, don’t stop taking the drug early. This makes it easier for the bacteria to replicate and become resistant. Never use “left-over” antibiotics. If they’re used past their due date, they’re more likely to cause resistance. And trust your doctor if he or she says you don’t need an antibiotic.
“One of the primary drivers, at least in this country, is the fact that the public begins to demand antibiotics for any cough, cold or viral illness, irrespective of the fact that antibiotics have no effect on viruses,” Adalja said.
Researchers found the increase in antibiotic use has been most dramatic in low-income and middle-income countries, which experienced a 114 percent increase.
ANTIBIOTICS CRISIS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
BACKGROUND: Antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most pressing public health problems. Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant ones may be left to grow and multiply. At least 30 percent of antibiotics prescribed in the outpatient setting are unnecessary, meaning that no antibiotic is needed at all. Most of this unnecessary use is for acute respiratory conditions, such as colds, bronchitis, sore throats caused by viruses, and even some sinus and ear infections. Overuse of antibiotics is a major modifiable cause of increases in drug-resistant bacteria. Overuse and misuse of antibiotics threatens the usefulness of these important drugs. Decreasing inappropriate antibiotic use is a key strategy to control antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance in children and older adults are of particular concern because these age groups have the highest rates of antibiotic use. Antibiotic resistance can cause significant suffering for people who have common infections that once were easily treatable with antibiotics. When antibiotics do not work, infections often last longer, cause more severe illness, require more doctor visits or longer hospital stays, and involve more expensive and toxic medications. Some resistant infections can even cause death.
ANTIBIOTICS: WHAT WE SHOULD KNOW: Colds, flu, most sore throats, bronchitis, and many sinus and ear infections are caused by viruses. Antibiotics do not help fight viruses. For the overwhelming majority of common respiratory infections, antibiotics are not helpful. Antibiotics cure bacterial infections, not viral infections, nor do they keep other individuals from catching the illness or help you feel better. Taking antibiotics when you have a virus may do more harm than good. It increases your risk of getting an antibiotic-resistant infection later. It also kills the healthy bacteria in the gut, allowing more harmful bacteria, such as C. difficile, to grow in its place. Although this infection is more commonly found in hospitals, it also occurs in clinics outside of the hospital. Antibiotics cause 1 out of 5 emergency department visits for adverse drug events, and are the most common cause of emergency department visits for adverse drug events in children under 18 years of age. It’s important to only take antibiotics for bacterial infections since they can put you or your child at risk for harmful side effects and antibiotic-resistant infections.
SCIENTISTS MAKE BREAKTHROUGH: Scientists working to develop a game-changing new antibiotic have made a significant advance towards creating commercially viable drug treatments. They produced two simplified synthetic versions of the substance which are just as potent at killing superbugs like MRSA as its natural form. The breakthrough by researchers at the University of Lincoln, UK, marks another important step to realizing the potential of teixobactin in aiding the global fight against antibiotic-resistant pathogens. Teixobactin is a recently discovered natural antibiotic which many in the international scientific community believe could lead to creation of the first commercially viable new antibiotic drug in 30 years. Ishwar Singh, MD, a specialist in novel drug design and development from the University of Lincoln's School of Pharmacy, explained, "When teixobactin was discovered, it was ground breaking in itself as a new antibiotic which kills bacteria without detectable resistance including superbugs such as MRSA. We have been investigating a way to simplify the design while retaining the high potency against resistant bacteria.”