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Antibiotic Resistance

The dangers of Antibiotic Resistance

Recent headlines are alerting us all to the dangers of Antibiotic Resistance and telling us we need to rethink our approach urgently for all our sakes, but particularly children’s, according to recent figures released on antibiotic use.

woman taking antibiotics
Antibiotics are prescribed on a daily basis for many illnesses, but are doctors overprescribing when other alternatives are available?

According to Sally Davies, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer. Scaremongering? Many people don’t think so, including the NHS and Public Health England, who’ve produced a video about it to mark Antibiotic Resistance Day around Europe:

Antibiotic resistance is a threat as great as terrorism. Antibiotic resistance is one of the most significant threats to patients' safety in Europe. It is driven by overusing antibiotics and prescribing them inappropriately.

Source NHS UK

Antibiotic resistance is one of the most significant threats to patients' safety in Europe.

Source - NHS UK

Bacteria that resist the most common antibiotic of last resort - colistin has been discovered in the UK.

Source BBC NEWS

NHS Choices states that UTIs are:

a relatively common infection during childhood.

Source NHS Choices

It is estimated that about one in 10 girls and one in 30 boys will have had a UTI by the time they turn 16. NHS figures show that about 5% of children who visit a GP when they become acutely unwell have a UTI. E coli cause an estimated 80% of them. About 40% of them are given up to three different prescriptions for antibiotics.

Source - Guardian

farm animals antibiotic resistance
Are the antibiotics used in farm feeds increasing antibiotic resistance?

Coilin Nunan, Scientific Adviser to the Alliance, said “Despite scientists saying that resistance to this last-resort antibiotic is likely to be spreading from farm animals to humans, it still remains completely legal in the UK and in most EU countries to routinely feed colistin to large groups of intensively farmed animals, even when no disease has been diagnosed in any of the animals.

We need the government, the European Commission and regulatory bodies like the Veterinary Medicines Directorate to respond urgently. The routine preventative use in farming of colistin, and all antibiotics important in human medicine, needs to be banned immediately.

Source - Quatchem

Antibiotics have played a pivotal role in medicine: bacterial infections that once would have been deadly have been treated swiftly, and routine operations carried out with significantly less risks but the effectiveness of antibiotics is now decreasing at an alarming rate as bacteria evolves naturally to become resistant to antibiotics.

This resistance has been accelerated by antibiotic misuse and over prescription. Furthermore, as time has gone on, research into new antibiotics has been considerably slowed as there are limited financial incentives for drug companies to focus on more short-term products and the funding and development has shifted focus to drugs that tackle chronic illnesses.

Why is Antibiotic Resistance so Concerning?

Sepsis is a major public health concern as it is responsible for 37,000 deaths each year (Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, 2013). A large proportion of these deaths are caused by antibiotic resistant infections. With the development of new antibiotic-resistant strains and no antibiotics to counteract these, in the next 20 years, there could be a surge in rates of previously treatable illnesses such as pneumonia/tuberculosis. Treatments for cancer or organ transplants or even minor surgery in the future may also be considered too risky due to the risk of infection. More vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly will be more at risk with outbreaks such as influenza becoming much more dangerous without adequate treatments.

Superbugs

antibiotic resistance - MRSA

Antibiotic resistant bacteria are named “superbugs,” examples of these being MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), C-difficile, E-coli (such as strain H30-Rx), NDM-1, CRKP, Acinetobacter Baumannii, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis. These bugs are often highly contagious, require long stays in hospital or intensive care and massively increase the risk of death from infection.

More and more people are becoming aware of the dangers of overuse of antibiotics. Increasingly, we talk to people who have acquired resistant strains of bacteria (ESBLs) that are, in their cases, no longer responding well enough to antibiotic therapy.

Most people are already familiar with the superbug MRSA, and C. Difficile, but not yet have heard of ESBL. ESBL-producing bacteria have joined the growing number of antibiotic resistant pathogens that cause hospital-acquired and now community infections. ESBL bacteria are different from other superbugs, because ESBL does not refer to one specific kind of bacteria. (For instance, MRSA refers specifically to methicillin-resistant strains of Staphylococcus Aureus.)

ESBL’s (Extended Spectrum Beta Lactamases) are enzymes made by some bacteria, including Klebsiella and E. coli amongst others. Usually, ESBL’s are harmless and live in the body without causing infection. EBSL refers to an antibiotic-resistance enabling enzyme that the bacteria are producing, as a means of protecting themselves against attack.

It would seem that bacteria have responded to the worldwide overuse of antibiotics in farming and medicine by creating beta lactamase, an enzyme that can give the bacteria immunity to each new attack they encounter.

ESBL enables resistance not only to penicillin, but to cephalosporin antibiotics also (antibiotics whose names begin with “Cef-”).

Many different species of bacteria can produce the ESBL enzymes although the most common ESBL producing bacteria are E. coli and Klebsiella. Both are common culprits in urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Overprescription and Inappropriate Use of Antibiotics

The general public and medical professionals have unfortunately created a culture where antibiotics are expected and given inappropriately. In the past, broad-spectrum antibiotics to cover a wide range of issues have been over prescribed without checking for the specific bacterium responsible for the infection and targeting it directly.

Similarly, antibiotics may be prescribed for months on end when patients have pushed for antibiotic prescriptions for illnesses that do not warrant them such as common colds and acne.

Many patients give up on taking their antibiotics before completing the full course or skip doses which has the effect of there being enough of the drug in the body to promote resistance but not enough to kill the infection. Thus resistance has spread and the next time the antibiotic is taken, it will already be ineffective.

What Can We Do About this?

One of the main things we can do is to avoid using antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. There are many natural products that can cure common ailments and infections without having to resort to antibiotics.

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