WHEN BACTERIA DECIDE TO FIGHT BACK

By Edidiong Michael

UDOFA, 300Level, Faculty of pharmacy

Before the dreaded effects of global warming or the apocalypse, lays a more life threatening doom- ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE. This means that in anticipation of effects that would befall mankind when the ozone layer finally gives way, a whole lot of humans would suffer and eventually die from diseases as insignificant as boils , urinary tract infections or even sore throat.

Alexander Fleming in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1945 said:

“The time will come when penicillin can be bought by anyone in the shop. Then there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing these microbes to nonlethal quantities of the drug, make them resistant.” As predicted 71 years ago by the man who first discovered antibiotics, drug resistance is upon us.

What is antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotic resistance, simply put, is the effect seen when bacteria decide to fight all medical efforts to terminate them. It is the ability of microorganisms to withstand the effect of antibiotics.                                   

The first global report on antibiotic resistance by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows alarming resistant levels of bacteria like pneumonia, diarrhea, urinary tract infection, gonorrhea and sepsis to drug treatment in 114 countries with some areas already out of treatment options for common infections.

KEY FACTS:

    • Antimicrobial resistance threatens the effective prevention of treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi.
    • A high percentage of hospital-acquired infections are caused by highly resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
    • Treatment failures due to resistance to treatment of last resort for gonorrhea have been reported in 10 countries.
    • Resistance to one of the most widely used antibacterial drug for the treatment of urinary tract infection- fluoroquinolone- is very widespread.

How did the world let it get this far?

A new study suggests that antibiotic resistant bacteria may be tougher superbugs than previously thought: not only are they harder to treat, they appear ‘fitter’ in general by causing more deadly infections.

With respect to Mother Nature, antibiotic resistance arises as a result of environmental pressure. It is a consequence of evolution via natural selection. Hence the bacteria which have a mutation and survive long enough to reproduce, pass on these traits to their offspring which become a fully resistant generation. Nature being only but a secondary factor here can only achieve this with the immense help from humans.

Primarily, humans pave way for the secondary factor to kick in through:

  • Over dependence on antibiotics for modern medical benefits
  • Overuse of broad spectrum of antibiotics like the use of 2nd and 3rd generation cephalosporins
  • Incorrect diagnosis and unnecessary prescriptions; 50% of the time, antibiotics are prescribed when they are not needed like in the use of antibiotics in the treatment of viral diseases like cold and flu.
  • Improper use/abuse of antibiotics by patients through self-medication, non-compliance to dosage regimen (underdose and overdose).
  • The use of antibiotics as livestock food additives to promote growth.

When these human factors are sufficiently supplied, bacteria mutate and eventually become resistant to medical efforts in terminating them. The gravity of the situation might not be fully understood or taken as serious as required until we realize that if more bacteria become resistant, in no distant time from now:

  • Urinary tract infections might become more deadly than cancer.
  • Gonorrhea may soon become untreatable.
  • The biblical Egyptian boils might eventually become an untreatable world plague.
  • Sore throat and diarrhea will become more life incapacitating than paralysis.

Should we be scared and how can we overcome this?

Not yet. The ‘discovery’ does not mean that an otherwise healthy person with a urinary tract infection is in danger of dying from it, but the gene is mobile and can be picked up by other bugs and this can make them more resistant and untreatable. I would also say, just like the trending Nigerian epp (help) mantra; who fear don epp?

Although there is the need to be cautious and sagacious while handling antibiotics, there is no reason to fear. Newer improved drugs are being developed to fight bacteria which are resistant to the existing drugs. Still, the abuse of these newer drugs would land us in a much bigger mess and this implies the continuous loading of our bodies with stronger drugs that would overtime make the bacteria fitter. It is however, now left to us to tackle antibiotic resistance by

  • Consulting a drug expert- a pharmacist- before proceeding with any medication.
  • Taking antibiotics only when prescribed by a certified health professional.
  • Complying with prescriptions; completing the full prescription.
  • Not saving antibiotics for next illness: leftover medication should be returned to the pharmacy.
  • Practicing safer and more hygienic lifestyles to prevent bacterial infections: washing hands, cleaning our environment and employing vaccines where appropriate.
  • As healthcare professionals, only prescribe antibiotics after proper investigation of symptoms.

We are running out of time, let us join hands to tackle and win this fight against bacteria.

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