Sore throat is a common infection. Only a trivial excuse, like sour food, can lead to an itchy throat with fever and cough. Prompt use of antibiotics nip the irritating symptoms right in the beginning. But have you experienced your antibiotic may not be as effective as before? You may find yourself succumbing to recurring infections too often. Do not neglect it as a minor affair. Drug-resistant bacteria are for real. There are no second opinions about it. So what do we do? Does it mean an end to the antibiotic era? Is humanity on the verge of losing this particular front? What are our alternatives? Let us go into the details of the subject matter. A major concern that has baffled the health experts and initiated a call for taming the bugs.
What are Drug-resistant bacteria?
Drug-resistant bacteria refers to bacterial strains that do not respond to antibiotics. The problem lies with bacteria. The strains have undergone mutations leading to the development of resistance against antibiotics.
In layman terms, the bacteria have attained superhero qualities. They cause disease instead of reaping any benefits. Calling them ‘superbugs’ would be more accurate.
Antibiotics have made a huge contribution to human health for the past 70 years. But several bacterial strains have adapted to resist the bactericidal effects of many drugs. Such Multi-resistant Organisms pose a major health issue. They have surfaced as life-threatening agents in some cases. In fact, medlineplus reports about two million individuals to fall prey to drug-resistant bacteria every year in the US. Out of which 23,000 die as a direct result of these infections.
The implications of drug-resistant bacteria resonate worldwide. They affect any age, gender at any locale. It affects human life in the form of
- extended hospital stay
- hefty medical bills
- increased mortality
While the collective repercussions befall global health, development, and food security. The ripple-effects would send tremors into our generations to come.
Causes behind drug resistance
The emergence of drug-resistant strains has different causes. They originate at different levels in our society. The singular cause, agreed-upon by health experts, is injudicious use of antibiotics. Yes, the same drugs that help prevent infection and disease are behind the emergence and proliferation of drug-resistant bacterial strains.
Injudicious use of antibiotics includes the ‘inappropriate’ as well as ‘misuse’. The examples are
- When you try to treat a viral infection with antibiotic
- Prescribing the wrong kind of antibiotic for a particular bacterial strain
- Prescribing an inappropriate strength or dosage of antibiotic
- Extended use of antibiotics
Many bacteria have a natural resistance against therapeutic drugs. Some bacteria undergo random mutations over the natural course of time. Drugs with the right dosage and strength combat this kind of resistance. The instances where the antibiotics fail to contest the microorganism occur
- When gene mutations render the bacteria resistant enough
- When one bacterial strain acquires resistance from another
In clinical practice, this is most often observed in cases of extensive use of antibiotics. It leads to selective mutations interpreted as the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria.
The infamous Drug-resistant bacteria
Some bacterial strains that responded to common antibiotics in the past have become drug-resistant in today’s clinical settings. They either need a high dosage, extra strength medication or some other alternative. Multi drug-resistant and total drug-resistant strains present a more alarming situation. Some of the most notorious are
- Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
- Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE)
- Multi-drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MDR-TB)
- Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE)
- Acinetobacter Baumannii (causes pneumonia, meningitis, UTI)
- E.coli (causes diarrhea, UTI)
While others with low or medium resistance include
- Streptococcus Pyogenes (causes sore throat and skin infections)
- Neisseria Gonorrhoeae (causes gonorrhea, STD)
- Klebsiella pneumoniae (causes pneumonia)
- Clostridium difficile (causes diarrhea)
- Pseudomonas Aeruginosa (causes pneumonia and other infections)
Despite low or medium resistance, some bacterial strains cause disease of high virulence. It leads to complications or long-standing cases. The morbidity and mortality rates soar.
Myths about drug-resistant bacteria
According to a report by WHO, wrong conceptions about drug-resistant bacteria prevail. Following are some examples with corresponding corrections.
- Our body becomes resistant to antibiotics. (Whereas it is the bacteria that become strong enough to resist antibiotics)
- No need to take antibiotics on the achievement of symptomatic relief. (On the contrary, a full dose of antibiotics for the prescribed days is important even if the symptoms disappear)
- Regular or frequent use of antibiotics gives rise to drug resistance. (Drug-resistant bacterial infection spares no one)
- Antibiotics treat Cold and flu. (Antibiotics do not cater to viral infections)
- Nothing lowers the risk of developing and spreading drug-resistant bacterial strains. (Subjective and objective measures can get the situation under control)
How to reclaim the authority over drug-resistant bacteria?
Implementation of two principles is important to cut back on the proliferation and spread of drug-resistant bacterial strains.
- Control infections in the first place
- Sensible and cautious use of antibiotics in case of infection
Adoption of these ethics at all levels of the community is important to reap long term benefits.
- Promote prescribed antibiotics
- Discourage the availability of over-the-counter antibiotics
- Follow the advice of your doctor on initiation of antibiotic course. Always take full dose. Follow the timings should religiously.
- Practice hygienic practices at home, hospitals, workplace and elsewhere
- Consume hygienically prepared food
- Health professionals should deliver proper guidelines to patients about antibiotic use
- Mapping out of Policies to regulate the use of antibiotics. They should also cover surveillance of drug-resistant infections
- Employment of similar surveillance and regulations on cattle farming
- Investment to come up with new antibiotics and vaccines
Take home message
Antibiotics treat bacterial infections. Drug-resistant bacteria emerge by their overzealous use. When required, a cautious use according to the doctor’s advice can do wonders. However, strict regulation followed by legit sales is imminent to control the spread of present-day drug-resistant bacterial strains as well as prohibiting the emergence of new ones. Public awareness about undue antibiotic use and importance of hygienic lifestyle practices plays an utmost role in this regard.