Antibiotic resistance has been in the news a lot recently, and rightfully so. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least two million people become infected with bacteria resistant to antibiotics each year, and of those at least 23,000 die. Things don’t seem to be getting any better either. A recent review on antimicrobial resistance released last month estimated that if bacteria keep evolving at the current rate, by 2050 10 million people will die a year from otherwise curable diseases.  

According to the review, these deaths will vary from country to country, with malaria taking the biggest toll on countries in Asia and tuberculosis estimated to greatly affect Russia as well.

Antibiotic resistance is a natural part of evolution. As humans create drugs to combat dangerous illnesses, bacteria evolve a resistance to the drugs. It used to be that by the time bacteria had evolved a resistance man had already created a new form of the drug. The antibiotic resistance crisis, however, is a man-made global threat. Due to a number of human-influenced factors, bacteria are now evolving at a rate much faster than pharmacists can keep up with, and the result is that more and more people are dying every year from diseases that were once thought to be completely curable.

It’s not just the common illnesses that are thought to be affected by antibiotic resistance; the crisis is believed to have serious secondary health effects as well. For example, without effective antibiotics, cancer treatments, organ transplants, and even cesarean child birth is believed to become far more deadly.  

“These problems will not just affect high income countries where such surgery is already commonplace, but will also have serious and negative impacts on middle income countries that are expected to build universal health systems over the coming decades,” the study authors wrote.

Who’s To Blame?

Essentially, there is no one person to blame for the antibiotic resistance crisis. In fact, one could even say that everyone who ever used a prescription antibiotic at some point in their life played a part in the crisis. Mother Jones reported that doctors overprescribing antibiotics and farmers feeding daily doses of antibiotics to animals helped bring about the current situation. This isn’t the whole picture, however. Misuse of antibiotics also played a part. Not finishing a course of antibiotics and then using the “leftovers” months later when you feel yourself getting sick helped the bacteria to evolve resistance at an unnatural and unprecedented rate.

It’s Not All Bad News

Scientists throughout the globe are joining forces to both create new antibiotics as well as devise ways to tackle infection without the need for these drugs in the first place.

The fact that more scientists as well as lay people are becoming aware of the current issue of antibiotic resistance is cause for optimism. We all play a role in ensuring that our planet does not revert back to the “dark ages of medicine,” and in order to ensure the future of our children, it’s time to not only recognize but also act on the issue of antibacterial resistance.

Source: Jim O’Neill. Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling a crisis for the health and wealth of nations. The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. 2014.