In April of this year, the World Health Organization released a report warning that a post-antibiotic era is a very real possibility for the 21st century. In a world where antibiotics no longer work, common infections and minor injuries can kill. According to the CDC “Antibiotic resistance has the potential to harm and kill anyone in the country, undermine modern medicine, devastate the economy and make the health care system less stable.”
This declaration has grabbed the attention of healthcare professionals and media worldwide. A Google news search on “antibiotic resistance” yields thousands of hits, most posted in the last few weeks. It appears that health authorities are taking steps to address and handle the issue.
But what exactly is antibiotic resistance? And does it work?
We take antibiotics to kill off the bugs in our systems, but the antibiotic does not kill all of them. The bugs that survive develop a resistance to the antibiotic, and pass that resistance on to their descendants. Since new generations of these microbes can be produced in mere hours, this can quickly develop into a situation where the bugs are always one step ahead of medical professionals.
How have we become resistant?
Many authorities attribute the increase in antibiotic resistance to the amounts of antibiotics used in animals, as well as humans. Antibiotics are given to humans for medical purposes, whereas they are given to animals in order to encourage faster, healthier growth. The use of antibiotics in animals over long periods of time can create ideal conditions for bacteria to develop resistance, while the bacteria susceptible to the drugs will die off.
What are we doing to combat this?
The CDC has launched new online software that aims to collect data from hospitals to automatically extract information about their physicians’ antibiotic prescribing practices from patient records and from test results that reveal the presence of resistant infections. Here in Canada, researchers from McMaster University have recently discovered a compound commonly found in soil and mold that may help win the battle against “superbugs”. Further experiments are set to take place.