Scientists say they are alarmed by the rise of drug-resistant genes in humans that could soon return us to the days when simple injuries or straightforward infections posed a real threat to life. A terrible future could be on the horizon, a future which rips one of the greatest tools of medicine out of the hands of doctors. The era of antibiotics that began almost a century ago is coming to an end. Diseases that were once easily treatable have become resistant to even the most potent antibiotics. Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy can damage the immune system. A course of antibiotics is prescribed to provide a much-needed boost alongside your body’s own defences. Health experts have previously said resistance to antimicrobial drugs could cause a bigger threat to mankind than cancer.
What are antimicrobial drugs – harmful microbes. Antibiotics are the best known of these drugs, but there are others, such as antivirals, antimalarial drugs and antifungals. The antimicrobial resistance occurs when micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites evolve to resist the drugs that combat the infections that they cause. As a result, standard treatments become ineffective, infections persist and may spread. When the micro-organisms become resistant to antimicrobial drugs they are often referred to as “superbugs”.
The growing threat of antibiotic resistance could lead to a “post-antibiotic apocalypse” if action is not taken. If the drug resistance spreads, it will change the way modern medicine works. For example, during transplant surgery, patients are given immunosuppressant drugs to prevent their immune systems from rejecting the new organ. Should the drug resistance spread, these drugs may no longer work. The same goes for other operations and cancer treatments. Patients are given antibiotics to prevent infections, and without them, routine surgeries would pose massive risks.A simple cut to your finger could leave you fighting for your life. Luck will play a bigger role in your future than any doctor could.
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Antibiotics are also heavily used in farming, which also affects humans’ exposure. The use of antimicrobials for growth promotion was banned throughout the EU in 2006, but still occurs globally. However, this ban has not led to a significant decrease in antibiotic consumption because, typically, compensatory increases in metaphylactic and prophylactic use have occurred.
Food is a potential route for exposing humans to antimicrobial resistant organisms. Processes in food production, storage and preparation are important factors in the development and spread of antimicrobial resistance. Food contaminated with resistant organisms can result in human illness that does not respond to available treatments. Even antimicrobial resistant microorganisms that do not cause illness can serve as a reservoir of resistance traits that can be transmitted to pathogenic organisms present in foods or people. Good hygienic practices across the whole supply chain are required to control antimicrobial resistance. Sanitation and hygiene reduce microbial contamination of foods, which also lowers the numbers of antimicrobial resistant bacteria entering the food chain.
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Anyone with an organ transplant faces a lifetime of drugs to suppress the immune system, otherwise it attacks the transplant, so antibiotics are used to protect the body. Without the drugs used to fight infections, common medical interventions such as caesarean sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements would become incredibly “risky”.
Surgery that involves cutting open the body poses massive risks of infection. Courses of antibiotics before and after surgery have enabled doctors to perform operations that would have been deadly before. If antibiotics lose their effectiveness it will spell “the end of modern medicine”. Essentially, antibiotic resistance is the bad side of evolution. When a person takes antibiotics, the goal is to kill all the bacteria of a given type. However, a handful of the bacteria causing the disease may have slightly different genes than the rest. One of those genes might keep it alive in the face of an antibiotic meant to kill it. If this happens, the surviving, resistant bug can replicate, creating a whole generation of offspring that can’t be killed by that antibiotic. It’s a future without antibiotics.
The World Health Organization has warned that “many common infections will no longer have a cure and, once again, could kill unabated”. Pharmaceutical companies keep rolling out new antibiotics, often to great fanfare. But experts say such innovations won’t stop the potential disaster barreling our way.
For one thing, bacteria become resistant to every new antibiotic, typically within a few years. And mounting evidence shows that antibiotics themselves can harm us. They wipe out good as well as bad germs, promoting everything from secondary infections to obesity.
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The World Health Organisation says that antimicrobial resistance occurs naturally over time, usually through genetic changes. But other factors have helped to accelerate the process such as the “misuse and overuse” of antimicrobial drugs. Other factors include poor infection control, inadequate sanitary conditions and inappropriate food-handling.
Even without the threat of antibiotic resistance, more-careful use of antibiotics would be a worthy goal. Studies have shown that a person’s microbiome—which includes bacteria that keep us healthy as well as those that can make us sick—gets trashed for a while after a course of antibiotics.
The World Health Organisation warned that antibiotics are ‘running out’ as a report found a ‘serious lack’ of new drugs in the development pipeline. In addition to existing drugs becoming less effective, there have only been one or two new antibiotics developed in the last 30 years. For decades, antibiotics have been so overused by GPs and hospital staff that the bacteria have evolved to become resistant. Around 700,000 people around the world die yearly due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria. Doctors claim medicines including penicillin no longer work on sore throats, skin infections and more seriously, pneumonia.
Efforts to create new antibiotics and reduce the inappropriate use of existing ones are ongoing. The WHO is also one of the partners in the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership, which is working with AstraZeneca to make and market a new antibiotic to fight gonorrhea. All of these efforts are good, but new drugs take years or decades to develop. It’s far faster and easier to convince people to stop using antibiotics when they aren’t needed or won’t work. Not only does that approach save money but it would also help the world save the antibiotics we have for a truly rainy day.
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What infections should not be treated with antibiotics. Viral infections should not be treated with antibiotics. Common infections caused by viruses include colds, flu, some sore throats, most coughs and bronchitis, many sinus infections and many ear infections.
Good hygienic practices across the whole supply chain are required to control antimicrobial resistance. Sanitation and hygiene reduce microbial contamination of foods, which also lowers the numbers of antimicrobial resistant bacteria entering the food chain.
Although resistance to antimicrobials occurs naturally, the widespread use of antimicrobials has increased the rate of its development. Although antibiotic resistance cannot be eradicated, it can be managed to minimise the impact on human and animal health. According to scientists, the first step humans must take to stop the spread of drug-resistance is to stop misusing and overusing antibiotics and other drugs when dealing with small complaints. As for the pharmaceutical companies, epidemiologists offer that it falls under corporate responsibility to investigate and develop new sources of general medicines.