FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Deep Harm of Antibiotics

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. 

 

More articles by:

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.”

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador   Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail