Antibiotics are one of the biggest resources created by man. A major invention that has formed one of the basic needs of every human. But what happens when this resource gets depleted? What happens when a drug you took always to cure an illness or sickness no longer works? What happens when it’s the only drug that takes care of that disease and now your doctor tells you there is no cure?
These questions sound outrageous or the idea of having a faulty drug sounds impossible to fathom. Well, get ready to be blown away because it is happening as we speak. Diseases that were once cured by some antibiotics have now grown muscles to beat the drug and rendered powerless.
A woman in Nevada dies from a bacterial infection that was resistant to 26 different antibiotics. A U.K. patient contracts a case of multidrug-resistant gonorrhea never seen before. A typhoid superbug kills hundreds in Pakistan. (By npr.org).
It’s crazy when you think about and this might be news to you. After all that is happening in the world from 2020 to now, you might think this is too much. But not to worry, there is something you and I can do about it.
What are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are those kinds of drugs or medicines the doctor gives you to take care of the bacteria or germs causing the disease, sickness or illness you are suffering from. Since the invention of the first true antibiotic, penicillin, antibiotics have contributed significantly to modern medicine and successfully cured countless people.
However, not all infections are treated with antibiotics. The way antibiotics work is they are specific to the organisms they act against. While some antibiotics may be effective against infections caused by some bacteria (germs), they may not be effective against other types or kinds of bacteria.
Also, not all infections are caused by bacteria. Antibiotics just form one part of the big umbrella we call antimicrobials. Antimicrobials is the general term that defines the different types of drugs that tackle other microbial organisms like fungi, viruses, protozoa.
Using the wrong drug to tackle the causative organism does not just have no effect on the organism but can produce unbearable consequences. One of which is antimicrobial resistance.
What is antimicrobial resistance?
According to centers for disease control (CDC), antibiotic resistance happens when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. It’s like when Bruce Barner turns into the Hulk but in this case, small microscopic organisms becoming impenetrable to the missiles sent to kill it. Then, imagine they like the Hulk, multiplying and becoming larger in number in the human body.
It’s a crazy analogy but antibiotic resistant bacteria is a real thing happening in the world today. Drugs used to treat certain diseases had to be changed. What happens when there isn’t a replacement?
Infections caused by antibiotic-resistant germs are difficult, and sometimes impossible, to treat. In most cases, antibiotic-resistant infections require extended hospital stays, additional follow-up doctor visits, and costly and toxic alternatives.
What causes antibiotic resistance?
Glad you asked!
According to the World Health organization (WHO), Antibiotic resistance occurs naturally but is accelerated by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, as well as poor infection prevention and control.
Antibiotics fight the organisms they are sent to attack but the germs don’t just stay dormant but also produces defense mechanisms. It is only when your enemy knows your tactics and strategy then, is able to devise a master plan and prepare for your arrival to overcome you.
To give you an idea of what this looks like, I will give you a scientific preview of what happens. Again, from the centers for disease control (CDC), the defense strategy is as follows;Strategy A: Restrict access of the Antibiotic.
Germs restrict access by changing the entryways or limiting the number of entryways.
Example: Gram-negative bacteria have an outer layer (membrane) that protects them from their environment. These bacteria can use this membrane to selectively keep antibiotic drugs from entering.
Strategy B: Get rid of the Antibiotic
Germs get rid of antibiotics using pumps in their cell walls to remove antibiotic drugs that enter the cell.
Example: Some Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria can produce pumps to get rid of several different important antibiotic drugs, including fluoroquinolones, beta-lactams, chloramphenicol, and trimethoprim.
Strategy C: Change or destroy the antibiotic
Germs change or destroy the antibiotics with enzymes, proteins that break down the drug.
Example: Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria produce enzymes called carbapenemases, which break down carbapenem drugs and most other beta-lactam drugs
Strategy D: Bypass the effects of the antibiotic
Germs develop new cell processes that avoid using the antibiotic’s target.
Example: Some Staphylococcus aureus bacteria can bypass the drug effects of trimethoprim
Strategy E: Change the targets for the antibiotic
Many antibiotic drugs are designed to single out and destroy specific parts (or targets) of a bacterium. Germs change the antibiotic’s target so the drug can no longer fit and do its job.
Example: Escherichia coli bacteria with the mcr-1 gene can add a compound to the outside of the cell wall so that the drug colistin cannot latch onto it.
All this may happen over time as we misuse and overuse antibiotics. When all is said and done, you have a resistant microorganism being shared among everybody and a whole population with a disease with no cure.
Hmmm……. doesn’t this look familiar?
So, what can you do to help?
Like I said, we all form part of the problem. Both the one supplying it, the healthcare provider and you consuming it. How many times have you wanted a quick fix, went to the hospital or pharmacy, told the doctor what you are experiencing and when he told you what to do and didn’t give you a prescription for an antibiotic you would flip out or ask or demand for one.
What you need to understand is, drugs are poisons but can be useful if we use them properly. Every drug has its indication. Beyond which can cause dangerous or irritating side effects.
The reasons you do not need a quick fix every time is because of the fact that your body is designed amazingly to take care of itself. Mechanisms have already been put in place to take care of it’s malfunctions which you sometimes experience as uncomfortableness, pain or irritation.
Your healthcare provider who is an expert on your body and the way it works and what drugs could help, is the best person to make a good decision for you healthwise. If you have a problem, find out why and more about your body. Why is it behaving the way it is and why an antibiotic or any other drug is not the best.
A real health provider be it a pharmacist, a doctor or nurse, will be able to give you a good explanation or refer you to one who can do better. You have a right to ask - it’s your body.
You may not have a pharmacist or doctor or any other health provider give or prescribe an antibiotic when you clearly do not need one in developed countries but in developing countries, pharmacies have to make money and will sell regardless. It is part of the problem even though we are the ones suffering from it. Diseases like cholerae, typhoid, malaria and such are all diseases developing countries mostly face and are almost absent in developed countries.
However, we can still change the narrative. If there is anything 2020 taught us is, if we work together we can change anything.
Below are some practical steps according to WHO on how to prevent antibiotic resistance and preserve our antibiotics till we are able to create new ones.
- Only use antibiotics when prescribed by a certified health professional.
- Never demand antibiotics if your health worker says you don’t need them.
- Always follow your health worker’s advice when using antibiotics.
- Never share or use leftover antibiotics.
- Prevent infections by regularly washing hands, preparing food hygienically, avoiding close contact with sick people, practising safer sex, and keeping vaccinations up to date.
- Prepare food hygienically, following the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food (keep clean, separate raw and cooked, cook thoroughly, keep food at safe temperatures, use safe water and raw materials) and choose foods that have been produced without the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention in healthy animals.
Antibiotic resistance is where antibiotics, one of the world’s biggest resources, known to act on specific microorganisms(bacteria) responsible for some illnesses are rendered useless due to these microorganisms being able to defeat the drug (like Thor in the last fight of the movie ragnarok).
Antibiotic resistance is a world-wide problem and if nothing is done about it now, we can have a world post-antibiotics. I’m sure you are already familiar with a pandemic which made you wear a mask whenever you were outside, stay 6 metres away from people and now is difficult to find a solution to.
We could have something worse in the future and we will be left with nothing to protect ourselves if we don’t do something about. What we can do to preserve this resource is to preserve it by using it properly and not overusing it. That way we can still have antibiotics and be able to invent new ones to tackle the new diseases we encounter in the future.
What else can you do to save the earth and preserve antibiotics?
Cheers to a better future!!!