Pharmaceuticals, Public Health

Antibiotic Resistance

I recently wrote a research paper for one of my classes on the problem we are facing with antibiotic resistance. I knew that there was a problem, but only vaguely. I think most of us are acutely aware of the issue. We’ve have probably all heard of the term “Superbug” and people getting MRSA, but what does that really mean and what are we supposed to do about it?


We know that antibiotics are drugs used to treat infections; such as, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and strep throat. They are not effective at treating viruses; such as the common cold and influenza. Resistance to antibiotics occurs when the antibiotic does not kill microorganisms; the microbes then become resistant to the drug, which then allows the continued growth of the infection-causing bacteria. Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people acquire infections with bacteria that are resistant to one or more antibiotics used to treat those infections

Many factors have contributed to antibiotic resistance; simply using them is the leading factor.  Some antibiotic resistance is a natural process because bacteria evolves. Antibiotics kill bacteria, which includes healthy bacteria that protect the body from infection, this allows the drug-resistant bacteria to take over and some bacteria give their resistance to other bacteria, increasing the problem. Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs used in medicine; however, 45 percent of antibiotics prescribed in physician offices are for conditions that antibiotics are not designed to treat such as a cold or influenza virus.

Bacteria that contaminates food such as Salmonella can become resistant because of usage in agriculture to promote growth in livestock. Animals are given antibiotics and they develop resistance to the bacteria in the gut. The bacteria then remains on the meat and when not handled or cooked properly it can spread to humans. Furthermore, the water or fertilizer containing the bacteria is used on food crops, which could also pass to humans. Multi-drug resistance bacteria is also a problem in communities and health care settings, where an infected person can spread the bacteria.

Compounding the problem of antibiotic resistance is that there are fewer being developed by pharmaceutical companies than there were in the 1940’s through the 1980’s. This is as a result of regulatory barriers, in effort to slow antibiotic resistance, as well as the return on investment for pharmaceutical companies. The costs of clinical trials are high; society is not willing or not able to pay for the high cost of the drugs. The research and development of new antibiotics is occurring; however, in recent years new antibiotics have not reached the market because they were not deemed effective or have had adverse side effects.

Antibiotic resistance is rising throughout the world. At this time there are 18 infections identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a threat, meaning they are multi-drug resistant. The infections are classified as urgent, serious and concerning threats. The CDC estimates that there are approximately two million cases of illnesses and 23,000 deaths due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria; similarly, the European Centre for Disease Prevention estimates  25,000 Europeans die each year because of multi-drug resistant microorganisms.

If we all used antibiotics only when needed and even if we stopped using it in agriculture, antibiotic resistance will continue to occur naturally, as history shows microbes have developed resistance mechanisms to the antibiotics that have been developed to fight them, eventually we will run out of new methods to treat the bacteria.

What is next? New technologies allowing for different treatments such as antibody-based therapies .



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