Antibiotics will soon be usele

Herceptin drugs for patients – Credit Facebook/Cancer Alliance

Antibiotics will soon be useless for treating ‘drug-resistant’ humans

Humans are becoming more and more resistant to drug treatments. How on earth has it happened?

Antibiotics will soon be usele

Herceptin drugs for patients – Credit Facebook/Cancer Alliance

It is almost inconceivable. Yet, here we are. Pondering a future where modern medicine is rendered obsolete, as we all grow resistant to antibiotics

Scientists attending a recent meeting of the American Society for Microbiology reported they had uncovered a highly disturbing trend. Over the last 18 months, the mcr-1 gene has been found in bacteria spreading all around the world.

This gene is super resistant to colistin, a commonly used antibiotic used the world over. Now, this is the problem. colistin is very much our ‘last line of defence’. It’s an antibiotic which is used in worst-case scenarios. The fact there are now widespread germs that are immune to this is… Well, it’s genuinely terrifying.

What is antibiotics resistance?

It occurs when hazardous bacteria change themselves in a way that stops the antibiotic from doing its job. Antibiotics are prescribed because they target a certain feature of this bacteria. However, this change (a mutation) means that the drugs are no longer fighting what they are designed to fight.

Changes in bacteria, known as resistance mechanisms, come in different forms and can be shared between different bacteria, spreading the problem.

What do the experts say?

If you were wondering that this may be a drill, you can save yourself a bit of time here and now. It isn’t. England’s Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies did nothing to quell concerns when she labelled the crisis as an ‘antibiotics apocalypse’.

Last week, top medical professionals were summoned to a conference in Berlin to discuss the 21st century’s next huge crisis. The figures being presented, from one certified intellectual to the other, were a stark eye-opener on what we’re about to face:

Drug-resistant infections claim 700,000 lives a year. In the next 30 years, that figure is predicted to push 10,000,000. As in, there will be a 14-fold increase on the amount of people who will be killed by infection, as drugs have little effect against disease.

What type of illnesses will become drug resistant?

Most viral infections are likely to reject anti-bacterial treatments. That would mean that prolonged bouts of flu or pneumonia could become more common killers.

This is particularly bad news for the Western Cape. Whilst facing a provincial drought, disease is likely to spread through major urban habitats. If antibiotics can’t treat things like cholera and dysentery, Cape Town will be plagued with disease.

Transplant surgeries require antibiotic treatment, as medical staff try to surpress a body’s immune system to stop the body rejecting a new organ. With a depleted reserve of effective antibiotic courses, patients would be left to the mercies of their own bodies as to whether they could survive.

In fact, surgery in general could be compromised. This was a point raised by Jonathan Pearce, head of infections and immunity at the UK Medical Research Council:

“Routine surgery, joint replacements, cesarean sections, and chemotherapy also depend on antibiotics, and will also be at risk. Common infections could kill again.”

How have humans become immune to antibiotics?

As we’ve mentioned, mutating bacteria has made it impossible for antibiotics to stick to one permanent form. However, with colistin very much being the ‘last resort’ drug that is set to become ineffective, we have to look at over-prescription.

This has been cited as the biggest reason for this potential epidemic. Doctors have been readily prescribing colistin-laded treatments when it may not have been necessary. A study in Australia found that 22% – 29% of prescriptions in hospitals between 2013 to 2015 were assessed as ‘inappropriate’.

Other contributing factors:

  • Land and fish farmers worldwide use antibiotics as growth promoters and pour them on livestock
  • Drug manufacturers also often do not dispose of their industrial waste appropriately.
  • Antibiotics then fall into streams and rivers with catastrophic results, particularly in Asia:
  • Animals consume these drug-laden waters, which humans are in-turn consuming when they eat meat.

Colistin has since been banned for agricultural use across Asia, but according to Bristol University’s Matthew Avison, it is ‘Too little too late – the genie is already out of the bottle’.

Should we all stop taking antibiotics?

Initially no, but this is where we have to show some self-awareness. Part of the problem is how readily humans decide they need antibiotics. However, we are perhaps victims of society in this one. We’re demanded to work, spend as much time at the office as possible, and keep a stiff upper lip.

Antibiotics help us do this, and without them a lot of people could barely function. But now, humans have to show more responsibility. If there’s anyway you can avoid them and feel like shit for a few days, then you must try. Because pretty soon, you won’t have the safety net available.

Is there anything that can save us?

We have to thank our friends down under for this. But yes, there is hope. Australia have implemented an ‘antibacterial stewardship’ programmes in hospitals, to ensure safe usage and prescription.

They are also happy with how educational and training courses have been for medical professionals in the country, too. Responsible usage can, at the very least, buy us some more time before an effective solution is found.