For seven decades now, we’ve been using antibiotics to successfully fight bacterial infections, but standard antibiotic treatments are now steadily dwindling in effectiveness against new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or “superbugs.”
The BBC says: “Superbugs are now a major global health threat with multi-drug resistant bacteria causing around 400,000 infections and 25,000 deaths in Europe every year.”
Superbugs could easily become an even bigger problem over the coming years because no new antibiotics are being developed. When we wantonly dose ourselves and our environment with unnecessary antibiotics, we further exacerbate the resistance factor.
No profits for Big Pharma
There are no new classes of antibiotics being developed to replace the older and increasingly ineffective ones due to the fact that there are no huge profit margins to attract the big drug manufacturers.
Big Pharma is not interested in the relatively modest profits generated by developing and marketing new antibiotics, so they simply don’t get made.
Many of the infectious bacterial strains have already become completely resistant to nearly all of the antibiotics currently in use. This resistance trend will only continue to increase. Within a decade or two, many simple surgical procedures and other medical treatments will be impossible to perform because of the danger of deadly untreatable infections.
That’s right: we’ll go straight back to the 19th century, when a minor medical emergency could easily kill you.
From a BBC report:
Experts have warned we are decades behind in the race against the superbugs. We’ve already exploited the most obvious naturally occurring antibiotics. So creating new ones requires much more time and ingenuity, but currently there is little financial incentive to do so. Pharmaceutical companies target chronic illnesses to maximise potential profits from new drugs.
Overuse of antibiotics
Collectively and individually, we all contribute to the problem by overusing antibiotics both on our bodies and in our food production. Individuals are prone to asking doctors for antibiotics they don’t really need. In fact, people often take them for the flu or other viral infections that antibiotics don’t even work on.
Our agricultural practices are to blame as well. The overuse of antibiotics is associated with intensive farming techniques. Antibiotics end up in our food and our water supply due to mass agricultural operations that are completely contrary to common sense and good health.
What are the solutions?
It is impossible to predict just how serious the problem might become in the not-so-distant future, but it’s clear that we face grave consequences if nothing is done about the situation.
Even if new research begins into creating new classes of antibiotics, which hasn’t happened for 25 years, it will take years of testing and development before the drugs can be made available to the public.
Other strategies include finding new ways to fight infection using other methods. More research is needed on techniques such as “phage therapy”, which uses viruses to fight bacteria, but this method hasn’t yet been proven to be safe.
Meanwhile, we can try to develop better methods of diagnosing whether infections are viral or bacterial. Research into how bacteria develop drug resistance might also help in finding new treatments. We can continue improving hygienic conditions in hospitals to help avoid infections in the first place.
We can eliminate the use of antibiotics in agriculture, but that will require a paradigm shift in the philosophy and methods of the agricultural industry. I’m not predicting that will happen anytime soon. For the time being, however, we can support the market for organic, free-range products.
We can avoid asking our doctors for unnecessary and inappropriate antibiotics. Doctors should also exercise far more restraint in prescribing them.
It’s a real concern for society as a whole. There are grim implications if resistant superbugs continue to spread, so let’s do what we can to address the problem on a personal and global level.
Support sustainable organic farming and avoid taking antibiotics unless it’s absolutely necessary. Those are two important steps in the right direction.