FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Deep Harm of Antibiotics

by

Resistance to antibiotics is a growing phenomenon and has become one of the world’s most serious public health concerns. Antibiotic resistance is a form of drug resistance where some bacteria are able to survive the administration of one or more antibiotics. This phenomenon is a consequence of misuse and overuse of antibiotics in medicine and in livestock feed. As a result of this, there is a growing presence of superbugs, as are called microorganisms -mostly bacteria- that carry several antibiotic-resistance genes.

The seriousness of the problem is underscored by the World Health Organization (WHO), which in a recent report has called this phenomenon a ‘global threat.’ The WHO report follows a 2013 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report which showed that two million people in the U.S. are infected annually with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and 23,000 people die each year from them. Last year, Dr. Sally Davies had called the problem a “ticking time bomb” and said that it probably will become as important in the magnitude of its effects as climate change.

As a result of antibiotic resistance and the increasing number of superbugs, common infections that could be treated without major problems have become untreatable. In 2012, the WHO reported 450,000 cases of tuberculosis in 92 countries where multiple drugs used to treat them were found ineffective.

A similar situation may happen with gonorrhea, with the serious public health consequences it implies. Sexually transmitted gonorrhea is now increasing worldwide, and so is its resistance to antibiotic treatment.

“Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier, and benefit from modern medicine. Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these public health goods, and the implications will be devastating,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s assistant director general for health security.

The new WHO report has gathered information on antibiotic resistance from 114 countries. The problem is particularly serious because no new antibiotics are being developed. As Dr. Danilo Lo Fo Wong, senior adviser on antimicrobial resistance to WHO Europe has indicated, “New antibiotics coming into the market are not really new. They are variations of those we already have.” The last completely new class of antibacterial drugs was developed 27 years ago, according to the report.

Many bacteria acquire the ability to destroy antibiotics to protect themselves. They develop a gene for antibiotic resistance to one or more antibiotics by developing a mutation that results in the production of enzymes that inactivate the antibiotics. And the bacteria accumulate resistance by developing new genes. In a strange twist of fate, genetics can work against us. Thus, any time a person uses an antibiotic without proper indication or for a shorter time than needed, it is promoting the development of antibiotic resistance.

Sir Alexander Flemming, who discovered penicillin, warned about this danger in his 1945 Nobel lecture when he said, “The time may come when penicillin can be bought by anyone in the shops. Then there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.”

In addition, the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock feed to help them grow better and put on more weight increases the magnitude of the problem. When livestock excrete the antibiotics they are largely not broken down. They then enter the environment through the ground and water and, when newly ingested by humans they retain the capacity to promote antibiotic resistance. Thus, the resistant bacteria in animals due to their exposure to antibiotics in their feed can be transmitted to humans via three pathways: consumption of animal products, close contact with animals, and through the environment.

In 2001, the Union of Concerned Scientists estimated that more than 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are given to animals in their food. Despite WHO’s warning that the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry should be prohibited, they continue to be used without restraint.

With fewer drug options, the most negatively affected are the poor and those that lack health insurance, circumstances that limit the search for the most effective treatment. The WHO, the medical charity organization Médecins Sans Frontières, and experts worldwide have stated that a global plan for the rational use of affordable antibiotics is urgently needed. To ignore their advice is to sow the seeds of our own destruction.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant and a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award. 

 

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
Pete Dolack
Killing Ourselves With Technology
David Krieger
The 10 Worst Acts of the Nuclear Age
Lamont Lilly
Movement for Black Lives Yields New Targets of the State
Martha Rosenberg
A Hated Industry Fights Back
Robert Fantina
Hillary, Gloria and Jill: a Brief Look at Alternatives
Chris Doyle
No Fireworks: Bicentennial Summer and the Decline of American Ideals
Michael Doliner
Beyond Dangerous: the Politics of Climate
Colin Todhunter
Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?
Steve Church
Brexit: a Rush for the Exits!
Matthew Koehler
Mega Corporation Gobbles Up Slightly Less-Mega Corporation; Chops Jobs to Increase Profits; Blames Enviros. Film at 11.
David Green
Rape Culture, The Hunting Ground, and Amy Goodman: a Critical Perspective
Ed Kemmick
Truckin’: Pro Driver Dispenses Wisdom, Rules of the Road
Alessandro Bianchi
“China Will React if Provoked Again: You Risk the War”: Interview with Andre Vltchek
Christy Rodgers
Biophilia as Extreme Sport
Missy Comley Beattie
At Liberty
Ron Jacobs
Is Everything Permitted?
Cesar Chelala
The Sad Truth About Messi
Charles R. Larson
A Review of Mary Roach’s “Grunt”
David Yearsley
Stuck in Houston on the Cusp of the Apocalypse
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail