Antibiotics are medicines used to prevent and treat bacterial infections. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in response to the use of these medicines. Bacteria, not humans or animals, become antibiotic-resistant. These bacteria may infect humans and animals, and the infections they cause are harder to treat than those caused by non-resistant bacteria.
Antibiotic resistance leads to higher medical costs, prolonged hospital stays, and increased mortality. The world urgently needs to change the way it prescribes and uses antibiotics. Even if new medicines are developed, without behaviour change, antibiotic resistance will remain a major threat. Behaviour changes must also include actions to reduce the spread of infections through vaccination, hand washing, practising safer sex, and good food hygiene.
Antibiotic resistance is rising to dangerously high levels in all parts of the world. New resistance mechanisms are emerging and spreading globally, threatening our ability to treat common infectious diseases. A growing list of infections – such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning, gonorrhoea, and foodborne diseases – are becoming harder, and sometimes impossible, to treat as antibiotics become less effective.
Where antibiotics can be bought for human or animal use without a prescription, the emergence and spread of resistance is made worse. Similarly, in countries without standard treatment guidelines, antibiotics are often over-prescribed by health workers and veterinarians and over-used by the public.
Without urgent action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill. Antibiotic resistance is accelerated by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, as well as poor infection prevention and control. Steps can be taken at all levels of society to reduce the impact and limit the spread of resistance.
Common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades may once again kill millions. Resistance to antibiotics will make complex surgeries and management of several chronic illnesses like cancer extremely difficult. Without effective antimicrobial medicines, a number of common infections such as hospital-acquired ventilator associated pneumonias, urinary tract infections, diarrhoea, gonorrhoea, tuberculosis and malaria are already becoming harder to treat .
A recent forecast for the potential human and economic cost estimates 10 million deaths per year globally and two to 3.5 per cent less global gross domestic product by 2050 if antimicrobial resistance goes unchecked.
Countries need to strengthen the monitoring of the extent and cause of antibiotic resistance, improve infection-control in hospitals and regulate and promote appropriate use of medicines besides creating increased awareness among the general public as well as health workers and pharmacists.
A World Health Organization (WHO) report this month revealed that none of the 43 antibiotics currently being developed “sufficiently address the problem of drug resistance” in the world’s most dangerous bacteria. If global antimicrobial resistance (AMR) goes unchecked, we face a future where even minor infections could mean death.
Now, there are concerns that responses to the coronavirus pandemic could be exacerbating the problem. A recent US study by The Pew Charitable Trusts found that more than half of Covid-19 hospital patients received antibiotics during the first six months of the pandemic – and in 96% of cases, treatment was given before a bacterial infection was even confirmed.
The findings echo those from a 2020 study of Covid-19 cases which revealed that over 70% of patients had received antimicrobial treatment, despite less than 10% having bacterial or fungal coinfections. READ: Can Humans Take Fish Antibiotics?