Antibiotic Resistance Problem and Solutions

Antibiotic resistance: one of the biggest dangers for the future?

About a century ago, a small scratch was life-threatening. If you don’t treat the wound properly, you could get an infection. Did your body lose the fight against the infection? If you were lucky the infection was on one of your limbs; amputation was then a possibility. Otherwise, there was a good chance that you died of the infection. Diseases that are now easy to combat, such as pneumonia, were often fatal in the past.

All this changed after 1928 when Alexander Fleming developed penicillin, the first antibiotic. Penicillin is a substance from a fungus with a bactericidal effect. A few years later, the action of penicillin was greatly improved. Certain infections, including those from staphylococci, were treated well with the use of penicillin. Penicillin was increasingly used and in World War II penicillin was part of the standard equipment of every doctor of the Allies.

A Race

As early as the late 1940s, it became clear that penicillin no longer worked as well over time. Several bacteria had found a way to protect themselves against antibiotics. They do this, for example, by killing the antibiotic or by ensuring that the antibiotic cannot penetrate into the cells of the bacterium.

Fortunately, the scientists did not sit still either. Soon many different types of antibiotics emerged; in total there are now more than a hundred. These antibiotics worked well and were also able to attack other pathogens. However, the bacteria that make us sick continue to evolve. The newer antibiotics also lose their effect over time because the bacteria become resistant. There is talk of a race. In order to continue to cure infections, we must ensure that antibiotics continue to exist against which pathogenic bacteria are not resistant.

How do we Win the Battle?

Of course we would like to be able to use antibiotics in fifty or a hundred years’ time. What should we do to ensure that we don’t die from infections in the future?

Developing New Antibiotics

 

The EU and the US have now started programs to encourage companies to research new antibiotics. In some cases, universities are involved, but it has also been suggested that companies should pay a big price if they bring a completely new antibiotic to the market. Ultimately, other measures can only buy us time and new types of antibiotics have to be developed.

Use Less

In some countries, much more antibiotics are used than in others. In the Netherlands you need a prescription if you want to buy an antibiotic, in other countries you can just go to the pharmacy and get antibiotics. The Dutch approach works, because there are fewer problems with resistant bacteria in the Netherlands than in other countries.

Many antibiotics are also used in livestock farming. These antibiotics not only ensure that animal diseases become resistant to antibiotics, some of the antibiotics also end up in your body. Fortunately, action is being taken to reduce the use of antibiotics in livestock farming.

Finish Cures

Many people stop taking antibiotics the moment they feel better. In many cases, this creates resistance, because the bacteria has not yet completely disappeared from your body. The concentration of antibiotic becomes so low that the bacteria can defend themselves against it. Also, people do not always have the discipline to take their medicines on time. For these reasons, tuberculosis patients are forcibly hospitalized in some countries.

Combinations

A last resort may be to use combinations of antibiotics. Although bacteria are resistant to all parts of the antibiotic cocktail, the amount of antibiotic can cause the bacteria to lose the battle anyway. A lot of research is still needed to properly use combinations of antibiotics, especially into the side effects.

What else?

There is a chance that we will lose the battle against antibiotic resistance. In that case, more and more minor infections become fatal. In the worst case scenario, 10 million people worldwide will die every year by the year 2050 from diseases that we could always just cure. Some surgeries, such as organ transplants, simply become too risky. Hopefully we have found a solution before then.