The discovery of antibiotics is one of the most significant medical breakthroughs in the history of medicine. Before this discovery, people usually died because of minor infections. Antibiotics increase the life expectancy of people by helping their bodies fight the disease caused by bacteria and making different medical interventions possible, such as invasive surgeries and cancer chemotherapy. Unfortunately, from the beginning of their use, bacteria are not just silently watching their eradication from the world; instead, they are continually fighting back and developing resistance against their enemy, which in this case are antibiotics. This antibiotic resistance is now becoming a global health concern as the number of bacteria resistant to at least one antibiotic is increasing daily. If this continues, then the time is close when it will become difficult to treat even minor infections with the help of antibiotics. This blog will discuss antibiotic resistance, how it happens, why it threatens us, and how we can limit its development.
What is Antibiotic Resistance, and How Does it Happen?
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria develop a defense mechanism against antibiotics, drugs that kill them. It is essential to understand that it is the bacteria themselves that become resistant to the effects of antibiotics, not the human body. Antibiotic resistance is a natural thing. Some bacteria are naturally resistant to certain antibiotics, whereas some bacteria undergo different mutations to adopt various mechanisms of resistance, such as:
- They can throw the antibiotic out of their system.
- They can decrease the influx of antibiotics into their cellular structure by changing membrane permeability.
- They can alter the shape of the protein that targets the antibiotic.
- They can degrade the antibiotic system by enzymatic reactions, etc.
Any of these can make antibiotics ineffective and unable to kill them. As a result, the resistant bacteria remain growing, multiplying into more resistant copies and transferring these new mutant genes to other organisms through plasmids. Other non-resistant bacteria can also pick up the immune or stray mutant genes through the environment and become resistant organisms.
Misuse of Antibiotics
Although antibiotic resistance is a natural process, overuse and misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals have contributed to this phenomenon. Every time we take antibiotics, there is a chance that some bacteria develop resistance against them and produce more resistant copies. So, the use of antibiotics itself is the driving factor behind antibiotic resistance, and they should only be prescribed when needed. Similarly, the overuse of antibiotics in food-producing animals for disease control and growth becomes the reason for cultivating resistant species. This resistance bacterium later transmits to humans who handle and eat this food and can lead to serious infectious diseases.
Why is Antibiotic Resistance a Threat to Us?
The problem is that commonly used antibiotics cannot cure the infection caused by resistant bacteria. Therefore, we must move on to more powerful, more expensive, or sometimes less friendly antibiotics regarding side effects. In addition, this type of infection sometimes takes longer to cure and can lead to secondary infections such as sepsis or other health issues. According to a joint report by the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the World Organization for Animal Health published in 2019, it is estimated that the number of deaths caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria can reach up to 10 million each year by 2050.
There was a registered case in 2016 of a 70-year-old woman from Nevada who died from a bacterial infection resistant to all the available antibiotics in the United States. This type of case indicates that if we do not take some immediate action and this antibiotic resistance continues to grow, the time is not far when no antibiotic will remain effective. Then, the easily treatable infection will become life-threatening. Examples of some superbugs that are resistant to almost all the commonly used antibiotics are methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), multi-drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MDR-TB), vancomycin-resistant, Enterococcus (VRE), Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE).
How can We Prevent Antibiotic Resistance?
We can do certain things as individuals to prevent the prevalence of antibiotic resistance and win this war against germs, which are given below.
Prevent the Infection in the First Place
Adopt good hygiene practices, such as:
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Use tissues or your hand for coughing or sneezing.
- Don’t touch your eyes, ears, or nose with dirty hands.
- Keep a suitable distance from the people who are sick.
- Try to avoid socializing and going out when you are sick.
- Get vaccinated, as it helps your immune system fight infections.
Ensure Proper Use of Antibiotics
Antibiotics only work for bacterial infections, so if you have a viral infection, don’t pressure your healthcare provider for an antibiotic, as it will not treat your disease. Instead, it promotes antibiotic resistance in the good bacteria in your body, which they can transmit to other bacteria. If your health care provider prescribed you an antibiotic, take it as prescribed and complete the course. However, if you stop taking them in the middle when you start to feel better, there is a chance that some bacteria are still present in your body, and they again start to multiply.
As a result, you can get sick again, and this time you may need higher doses of the same antibiotics or switch to other, more potent antibiotics. Don’t use anyone else’s antibiotics or share your antibiotics with someone else. Taking the wrong antibiotics can prolong your illness and promote antibiotic resistance. After completing the course, discard the leftover antibiotic, do not save it for your subsequent use. They are only for one-time use.
Antibiotic resistance has become one of the significant global health concerns as the emergence of bacteria resistant to one, or multiple antibiotics are accelerating. The infections caused by these bacteria are severe and challenging to treat. Therefore, it is essential to take appropriate steps to limit this spread; otherwise, time is not far when minor infections and injuries can become the reason for death. It is only possible with the proper use of antibiotics. So, along with policymakers, we must also make sure that we play our part in stopping the emergence of antibiotic resistance and only use antibiotics when prescribed and as they are named.