The Global Threat of Antibiotic Resistance

The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is reaching epidemic proportions, and if new antibiotics aren't created to combat even common bacterial infections, we may find ourselves without the ability to combat even the common illnesses.
03/07/2016 11:41 am ET Updated Mar 08, 2017

By Drs. David Niesel and Norbert Herzog, Medical Discovery News

The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is reaching epidemic proportions, and if new antibiotics aren't created to combat even common bacterial infections, we may find ourselves without the ability to combat even the common illnesses. Can you imagine going back to the dark ages before penicillin?

While first-world countries use the most antibiotics, a new report reveals that antibiotic use in second- and third-world countries is steadily increasing. While this may be good in terms of treating and preventing diseases, it has some serious consequences for the global threat of antibiotic resistance. As researchers wrote in a recent report, "When it comes to antibiotic resistance, the rich pay with their wallets and the poor pay with their lives."

The use of antibiotics grew by an astounding 30 percent from 2000-2010, and according to the report, "Antibiotic use drives antibiotic resistance." The countries with the biggest increases in antibiotic use were India and South Africa. You can track antibiotic use and resistance worldwide on the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy's website. Three dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria, commonly called superbugs, to public health are E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus. Between 2008 and 2014, the incidence of multiple drug resistance in Klebsiella doubled. Doctors in India are using an antibiotic of last resort to fight Klebsiella infections.

There are multiple ways bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics. Bacteria can create new ways to function, subverting antibiotics completely. They can change sites within themselves where drugs act, rendering the antibiotics ineffective. They can actively pump antibiotics out to remove them. They can produce enzymes that alter or destroy drugs. Bacteria can even work together, forming a dense barrier called a biofilm that prevents antibiotics from reaching them. Bacteria are always reinventing themselves, and they can do so quickly.

The new report also promotes six strategies that belong in every country's plan to control the growth of antibiotic resistance. The first is to prevent bacterial infections by improving sanitation, water quality and immunization rates. The second strategy is to lower hospital infections and therefore the overuse of antibiotics by improving hygiene and surveillance and creating an antibiotic use protocol. The third is to change the incentives that lead to antibiotic overuse. There are powerful incentives for hospitals, doctors, communities and agriculture industries that lead to antibiotic overuse. The fourth step is to phase out the practice of using antibiotics to promote livestock growth. China, the U.S. and Brazil are the biggest offenders when it comes to agricultural misuse of antibiotics, totaling almost 30,000 tons in 2010. The final two recommendations are efforts to educate medical providers, policy makers and citizens about responsible use of antibiotics. Public awareness campaigns, political commitment and sensible guidelines can change expectations for antibiotic use.

The only way we are going to solve the spread of antibiotic resistance is with a global focus. With thousands of travelers crisscrossing the world daily, the quick spread of infections is a real threat. This is problem that we all face, and one we must solve together.

Medical Discovery News is hosted by professors Norbert Herzog at Quinnipiac University, and David Niesel of the University of Texas Medical Branch. Learn more at www.medicaldiscoverynews.com.