Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Post-antibiotic Era That Threatens the Achievements of Modern Medicine

Author: United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Author: United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The overuse and misuse of antibiotics meant to fight infections by killing or inhibiting the growth of disease-causing bacteria are increasingly becoming ineffective. Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, reports, “Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

The CDC Threat Report 2013 claims, “Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections. Many more people die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.”

The problem is that we have known that bacteria can adapt to their environment for 70 years. In 1943, scientists discovered that bacteria could mutate and become antibiotic-resistant. In 1945, biologist Alexander Fleming warned that the misuse of penicillin could make bacteria resistant to it.

Meanwhile, the medical profession, patients and the public at large, agribusinesses and the meat producing industries have been aware of the consequences of the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. Yet, all failed to take any meaningful action.

Physicians overprescribe. Patients take antibiotics not as prescribed. People self-treat ailments by using not prescribed antibiotics from their medicine cabinet that were suitable for an earlier infection but may not be for their current illness. Some people acquire antibiotics without a prescription.

Additionally, the food industry kills more than 10 billion food animals a year for food in the United States. The amount of antibiotics used to feed these animals is huge (seventy percent of the antibiotic used is for promoting growth and not to prevent diseases in livestock and poultry). Estimated at 29.9 million pounds  sold to meat and poultry producers in 2011, antibiotics represent huge profits for the pharmaceutical companies that produce these antibiotics. It’s a massive market that they will fight tooth and nail to protect.

And, adding to the problem, antibiotics are not as profitable as the blockbuster drugs. Therefore, pharmaceutical companies are not going to invest in making new antibiotics or medications that may solve the problem.

Ultimately, the problem boils down to our acquiescence in allowing this to happen and a drive for profit by the pharmaceutical companies who could lead the way to solving this problem, but instead value money over the wellbeing of people.

 (A version of this article was first published on the Yahoo Contributors Network on November 20, 2013)

Copyright © 2014 Horatio Green