Modern medicine has provided us with incredible safeguards for health. Following Alexander Flemming’s development of penicillin in 1928, we entered the era of antibiotics with a new class of drugs that could target diseases without affecting our own bodies.
The downside of overusing antibiotics and antimicrobial drugs is that only the strongest strains of bacteria and microbes withstand them. This process leads to superbugs which can survive medical treatment. The World Health Organization (WHO) now listsantimicrobial resistance as one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019.
What are superbugs?
Superbugs are the bacteria or microbes that survive even after a patient has taken an antibiotic treatment. With their license to live, these bacteria tend to flourish compared with the strains that antibiotics target.
In 2017, WHO noted a rise in multidrug-resistant tuberculosis and scientists estimate that as much as70% of infection-causing bacteria are already resistant to at least one type of antibiotic.
Why do superbugs matter?
Can you imagine living in constant fear that pneumonia could threaten your life? With our present day medical treatments we take for granted the relative luxury we have without these fears.
Overprescription for the common cold and flu is another common point of due to the belief by both healthcare professionals and patients that it may not help but it won’t hurt, either. Yet, as many are well aware, antibiotics have no direct effect on colds and flus because they are caused by viruses.
Yet, the use of antibiotics is widespread in many professions beyond the medical field, which can make curbing overuse more difficult. For instance, antibiotics are commonly used inanimal food production. Animals that fall victim to antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains can contaminate meat products. Widespread treatment of animals with antibiotics also presents the risk of creating a large accumulation of antibiotics in the environment through biowaste.
What can we do about superbugs?
While it may seem that we could simply adapt our medicines to target these new strains, our medical capabilities are not so flexible. Most of the antibiotics we use today were developed between the 1950s and 1970s, without many antibiotic discoveries since then.
This is why WHO advocates adjusting our attitudes towards the use of antibiotics. By spreading awareness of the gravity of the danger, everyone can make more informed efforts to maintain hygiene, avoid the overuse of antibiotics, and educate others about meat products. This way we can keep the use of antibiotics in check.