Antibiotic Resistance: The sad future we might be creating
Imagine this your friend (let’s call him Sam) hurts himself while trying to cut an apple. Usually this is nothing to worry about, but unfortunately this injury happens in the year 2030. Very futuristic, so why is it an unfortunate time to have a simple injury? The events that unfolds would explain this.
Sam’s wounds are a little deep so he had to go get it stitched. After getting it stitched he develops a fever in three days, he is rushed to the hospital, it turns out, he has an infection. Normally this would not be a problem, a simple culture should help us know what would work for him. A culture is done, and then it is discovered that he has a strain of a bacteria that is resistant to every antibiotic. How could this be you wonder?
Well, we have a limited number of antibiotics available, so when none of them works for an infection we get stuck on what to do. Some people may try drug combinations hoping that an assault on the pathogen from various points would yield results, but sometimes it doesn’t. So, what do you do when nothing works? The sad answer is, you pray and hope for a miracle.
This was the reality for people before penicillin was discovered in the late 1920s. People would die of minor infections because they had no antibiotics to help them. But it seems we are progressing backwards to a time when antibiotics will not be an option.
Due to the emergence of resistance, so many strains of bacteria have become resistant to the effect of antibiotics. So administering a cephalosporin at a dose and for a duration that would lead to the cure of an infection will no longer work. What does this mean….?
It means that anything that puts you at risk of developing an infection becomes a catastrophe. Things like getting injured, doing surgery, having implants, dental procedures, organ transplants, ear infection, strep throat etc. could lead to the loss of a life.
How did we get here, and what are we doing to create a future where Sam doesn’t die of a simple cut from slicing an apple? Bacteria are smart. They replicate and evolve within minutes to resist attacks. If you expose them to a drug, they can evolve to resist it. Our mindless use of antibiotics is one of the culprits. Antibiotics are administered for conditions they are not needed for and even a lot of the time they are not taken properly.
As healthcare professionals practicing in Nigeria we have let our patients down by encouraging resistance. And we continue to let them down when we help them abuse antibiotics by administering it carelessly. We give it to them for the prevention of diarrhea because they are going on a long trip. We give it to them with their anti-malarials without first testing for the presence of a bacteria. We give it to them carelessly for cough and pains that they don’t need it for. Sometimes we give into their request for drugs that you know they don’t need, not because you are a bad person, but because it has become the norm.
The ease at which people access these drugs is what will kill Sam.
On the other side, farmers use these drugs carelessly too. Antibiotics are fed to chicken, cows etc to keep them healthy and prevent infection. This encourages resistance which is passed on to humans.
We are not discovering new solutions and alternatives fast enough to keep up with the growing resistance. On one level research needs to be encouraged through grants and patents, but on our level we need to be more responsible in the way we use these drugs.