We’ve all been prescribed an antibiotic at some point in our lives, whether it was for a mild infection or something more severe. Either way, most everyone is familiar with the term “antibiotic medication” and the immense potential that these medications have in fighting bacterial infections! Personally, I have had so many ear infections in my life that it would probably take more fingers than I have to show you how many amoxicillin prescriptions I have been prescribed in my life. Antibiotic medications are easily one of the most profound discoveries of recent times and have saved so many lives that otherwise may have succumbed to what began as a minor infection. However, antibiotics today do not seem as effective as they once were or have been in the past, and this is due to the ever morphing nature of bacteria. The process of bacteria becoming resistant to these medications is in part by spontaneous mutation of the bacterial genome, but is enhanced exponentially by the misuse and over prescription of antibiotics in today’s society.
One of the main factors contributing to the quick acquisition of resistance in bacteria is the overprescription of antibacterial drugs by physicians. According to an article released by the CDC Newsroom, at least 30 percent of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are unnecessary. Furthermore, the CDC announces that most of the unnecessary prescriptions of antibiotics are given to patients presenting with respiratory conditions, which are commonly caused by viruses! In total, the CDC has calculated that there have been over 47 MILLION excess prescriptions every year. By having individuals take antibiotics unnecessarily, the bacteria in their body begin to acquire mechanisms of gaining resistance, Not only does this promote antibiotic resistance, but also puts patients at risk for developing allergic reactions or even contracting a potentially lethal C. difficile infection.
Another way that bacteria are developing resistance against these miracle drugs is through the use of antibacterial animal feed being provided to animals that are slaughtered for human consumption. An article published by the A Greener World, it is discussed that almost all farms in the U. S. provide low levels of antibiotics in their animal feed or water, not to treat sickness, but to allow the animals to live in close confinement while lowering the risk of disease outbreak amongst the animals. The USDA estimates that a whopping 80% of all antibiotics produced in the U. S. are used in animal food production. Not only is this inhumane treatment of the animals, but the dosages of antibiotics being provided is enhancing antibiotic resistance within the animals. This allows the normal microbiota of the animals to be naturally selected for resistance, and when these bacteria are consumed by humans, it can cause disease that can be hard to treat due to the increased resistance of the bacteria. This is one of the reasons that some strains of E. coli and S. aureus that are contracted from animals have become so hard to combat in humans. What once was treatable by a simple antibiotic prescription can now become a life threatening illness.
In an even more relevant light, the novel Coronavirus also may be aiding in the selection of resistant bacteria. While COVID-19 is a virus and it is known to not be treated with antibiotics, many hospitalized patients are receiving cocktails of multiple antimicrobial medications in hopes of preventing secondary infections to the Coronavirus. While on a surface level, this may seem smart to prevent unnecessary and potentially life threatening complications of the virus, on a deeper level it is contributing to the ever growing issue of antibacterial resistance. In an article published by MedicalNewsToday, Neil Powell, who is conducting this research and is also a consultant pharmacists, says that the majority of COVID-19 patients are prescribed antibiotics because it becomes hard to tell whether a patient with the virus has an overlying bacterial infection due to the similarities in signs and symptoms among the two. Not only does this pose a threat to the microbiota of individuals, but could also have implications for the environment. The increased use of antibiotics could lead to increased levels of antibiotics in water, which creates an aded burden on water treatment facilities. This also becomes an issue when hospitals and high risk individual receive this water that may be housing resistant bacteria.
The moral of the story here is that antibiotic resistance is on the rise, and once it surpasses our level of antibiotic knowledge, we’re in for it. If we do not begin to practice more sustainable antibiotic use, bacteria will become much harder to combat and what would have been easily treated with penicillin could become a death sentence for many. In order to combat this, it will take a combination of better practices from physicians, civilians, and farmers. It becomes the physicians job to only prescribe antibiotics when they are absolutely necessary. It is the civilians job to adhere to the medication regimen and complete the prescription if prescribed, and it becomes the farmers duty to stop using antibiotics in animal feed, or to at least lower the levels to the minimal level possible. Hopefully, everyone working in harmony to solve this issue can buy researchers a bit more time to develop new drugs that can be used to combat the more pesky, resistant strains that are becoming more populous in our environment today.