By Dasha Asienga, Copy Editor
Antibiotics have long been used to assist our immune systems in combating pathogenic diseases by inhibiting or destroying causal microorganisms. This prevents us from getting sick from deadly infections. However, some antibiotics have been misused such that microorganisms have developed resistance to them through mutations and natural selection. This poses a huge health risk: patients may become severely sick, or possibly die, from diseases that were once thought to be eradicated. Antibiotic-resistant infections are sometimes impossible to treat, as the only antibiotics that can be used to fight the germs are rendered ineffective. Furthermore, resistant microbes can give their resistance to other microbes, accelerating the crisis. Each year in the U.S., at least 2 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection, and at least 23,000 people die. Worldwide, the death rate is 700,000. Streptococcus pneumoniae is a pathogen that causes a variety of illnesses, including pneumonia and meningitis. Other infections include tuberculosis and gonorrhoea. Because such germs have the ability to affect anyone, this issue is one of the world’s most urgent public health problems.
Besides random mutations, there are other ways through which bacteria can develop antibiotic resistance. One way is through antibiotic overuse, which may pressure mutation. Antibiotic resistance is often thought to be a problem in affluent communities where families rush to the hospital for the slightest symptoms. However, an article in the New York Times titled, “In a Poor Kenyan Community, Cheap Antibiotics Fuel Deadly Drug-Resistant Infections,” describes how the overuse of antibiotics manifests itself in poorer communities and leads to increased drug-resistant infections; antibiotics are carelessly prescribed and sold, with some using up to 6 different antibiotics to combat one infection. Because they are relatively cheap, patients may buy multiple broad-range antibiotics that can be used against a myriad of infections. Since bacteria can share genetic information, other bacteria easily become resistant also, and residents of low-income communities can become highly susceptible to drug-resistant infections.
Another way through which drug resistance is also developed, especially in poorer communities, is through the sale of counterfeit antibiotics that contain so little of the active ingredient required to kill the pathogen such that they accelerate resistance. Even when the drug is authentic, some families cannot afford to buy the full prescription, and opt to buy just a few of the tablets required. Because these are often not enough to completely destroy an infection, there is room for surviving bacteria to mutate. Furthermore, in unsanitary conditions, germs are ever-present, and thus, it takes more than just a few tablets to fully combat infections. This trend of misuse is another factor in increased antibiotic resistance in poorer communities.
Antibiotic resistance can affect anyone of any age in any country. Still, you can protect yourself and your loved ones from contracting pathogens in the first place by practicing hygienic behavior. You can do this by regularly cleaning your hands, recognizing early symptoms of an infection, cleaning up after handling pets and cleaning your pets regularly, getting appropriate vaccinations, and preparing food safely.