At Home with Chris Jessen 2018 - 43
G E N E R A L H E A LT H ▲
RESISTANCE TO ANTIBIOTICS POSES A
HUGE THREAT TO PUBLIC HEALTH.
UNLESS NEW ONES ARE DEVELOPED,
MILLIONS OF PEOPLE COULD DIE AND
ROUTINE MEDICAL TREATMENTS MAY
BECOME A THING OF THE PAST...
WORDS: TRISH LESSLIE, IMAGES: GETTY IMAGES
ntibiotics are losing
their effectiveness at
an alarming rate and
the repercussions are
as serious as they are
we had antibiotics,
people died from common illnesses
such as diarrhoea and pneumonia.
Even minor surgery was potentially
fatal as opportunistic bacteria
entering the body through the surgical
incision could cause an infection.
Any task that involved a chance of
cuts and scratches came with a risk
of contracting an infection that could
kill or necessitate an amputation.
As bacteria adapt to become
resistant to antibiotics, that's the harsh
reality the world is heading back
towards. We are once again facing
the risks of the pre-antibiotic age
as we lose the ability to fight infection
with the wonder drugs that have been
freely prescribed for decades.
Much of the problem has been
attributed to doctors over-prescribing
these medicines, which is partly
due to patients insisting on them to
treat everyday conditions such as the
common cold. But while it's true
that the fewer antibiotics you use,
the less likely it is that resistance will
develop, over-prescription is only
one part of the story.
WORK... AND WHY
THEY ARE BECOMING
Antibiotics have been successfully
used to treat bacterial infections for
70 years. They work by>either
disrupting the processes that bacteria
need to survive in the body or by
preventing them from reproducing.
Scientists have been warning
about the consequences of the
increasingly fast progression of
antibiotic resistance for years and are
finally being heard.
In 2013, the chief medical officer
for England, Professor Dame Sally
Davies, produced a report called The
Drugs Don't Work demonstrating the
'catastrophic threat' that developing
antibiotic resistance posed to the
world's health. In response, the
government set up a commission on
The report published by the
commission contained the headlinegrabbing estimate of 10 million extra
deaths a year worldwide by 2050
if action was not taken globally to
reduce 'bad' antibiotic use and to
develop new antibiotics.
This means that in just a couple
of generations, the drugs that once
appeared to be a cure-all will be
ineffective against the bacteria they
were designed to beat. That's because
strains of bacteria can mutate and,
over time, become resistant to a
specific antibiotic. The chance of
bacteria mutating and becoming
resistant increases if you don't finish
the course as prescribed by your GP.
This is because any bacteria that
remain after you are better are likely
to develop resistance.
Antibiotics can also destroy
harmless strains of bacteria that live
in the body, allowing resistant bacteria
to multiply and replace them.
The overuse of antibiotics also
plays a significant part in resistance.
This includes using the drugs to treat
minor ailments that don't require
this type of medication. Unnecessary
of broad-spectrum antibiotics,
selection of the wrong antibiotics
to treat conditions and prescribing
them for inappropriate durations
have all contributed to the problem,
too, as has incorrect use by patients
MARCH OF THE
Increasing resistance has lead to
superbugs - strains of bacteria such as
MRSA, Clostridium difficile (C. diff )
and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis
(MDR-TB) that are resistant to more
than one type of antibiotic.
According to the World Health
Organization (WHO), these
superbugs are becoming an increasing
cause of disability and death across
the world, with multidrug-resistant
bacteria causing 400,000 infections
and 25,000 deaths in Europe every
year, according to the latest statistics.
So how do bacteria become
superbugs? At a molecular level,
these tiny organisms are finding
ways to outsmart the drugs designed
to kill them. And they don't just
survive, they thrive. The body's natural
defences struggle with the onslaught
as some bacteria can produce another
generation in as little as 20 minutes.
Pharmaceutical research has
failed to keep up with the growing
resistance. As no new type of antibiotic
has been discovered for 25 years, experts
warn the superbugs are decades ahead
in the race against humans. >
www.athomemagazine.co.uk FEBRUARY 2018 | 043