Updated: Nov 19, 2020
What is your role in preventing this catastrophe?
What are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are medications which kill specific microorganisms that cause infections. There are different classes of antibiotics for treating different types of infections. They are used in bacterial, fungal and parasitic infections. They are usually not effective against viruses
The first antibiotic which was discovered was Penicillin by Alexander Fleming in the year 1928. Ever since that it has changed the course of modern healthcare. Millions of lives have been saved by antibiotics and it has contributed to better health and longer lives worldwide.
Why are antibiotics so important?
When we think of antibiotics the first thought that comes to our mind is the prescription that the doctor gave us sometime back for a cold or a stomach bug. But the role of antibiotics is so much more than that. Antibiotics are the lifeline of modern healthcare.
Some of the instances where antibiotics can be lifesaving are:
Sepsis : Any infection can spread throughout the body and cause sepsis or septic shock. Infants, elderly, diabetics and those with a compromised immune system are most susceptible. Antibiotics play a major role in preventing sepsis.
Surgeries : Any minor or major surgery carries a risk of infection at the surgical site since we are exposing the tissues within the body to the outside. Antibiotics help in treating and preventing these.
Diabetes : There are an estimated 500 million people around the world suffering from diabetes. Diabetic patients are at high risk of developing infections. Antibiotics are useful in improving the health of persons with diabetes by treating these infections and preventing complications.
Organ transplants: In recent years with advances in organ transplant surgeries, many people have been given a new lease of life. These complex surgeries carry a huge risk of infection. These surgeries will not be possible if not for antibiotics.
Cancer patients: Cancer patients require chemotherapy and radiation treatments . These therapies kill the cancer cells but they weaken the immune system, making cancer survivors highly susceptible to infections. Antibiotics help in preventing and treating these infections thus helping people survive cancer.
These are just few examples of how antibiotics have changed the course of modern healthcare. There are many more applications in virtually all aspects of medicine.
What is antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance is when a particular antibiotic is no longer effective against a microbe. The microbe continues to grow inspite of taking the antibiotic that is meant to kill it.
Microorganisms are constantly evolving and undergoing genetic mutations to escape the effect of antibiotics. Every time a new antibiotic is discovered and used in the population, the microorganism immediately begins to mutate in a bid to avoid eradication.
Every few years a new antibiotic is discovered and mankind continues to win this war against microbes. But the past decade has seen a surge of many drug resistant microbes or superbugs that are spreading around the world and not responding to even the most powerful and expensive antibiotics. If this continues unchecked, there may soon be a day when we run out of an effective antibiotic! We will then be at the mercy of these microscopic organisms.
Why is antibiotic resistance increasing?
The most important reason for antibiotic resistance is the injudicious use of antibiotics. Patients, doctors and pharmacists are responsible for this.
After years of research a particular dose of antibiotic to be taken for a certain number of days is set for every infection. Tampering with this and taking antibiotics wrongly, for minor illnesses, without the advice of a doctor, taking a lower than recommended dose, taking an incomplete course, mixing different drugs, self medicating (without doctor’s advice) with the same prescription when there is a similar infection in the future, sharing your antibiotic prescription someone else with similar symptoms, assuming they have the same infection (without the doctor’s advice) etc are some of the common mistakes which people make.
Doctors are also responsible for furthering this problem when they don't prescribe responsibly. Pharmacists who give antibiotics to customers without a prescription are the other notorious contributors to this grave problem.
How can you help to stop antibiotic resistance?
The next time you are prescribed an antibiotic for any illness, ASK your doctor if it is really necessary. ASK what further tests can be done to confirm the right antibiotic.
ASK your family and friends in case you notice anyone taking antibiotics unnecessarily ASK your local pharmacist if you notice him selling antibiotics without a valid prescription.
NEVER SELF MEDICATE.
Googling your symptoms might throw up a diagnosis and name of the antibiotic. You might even be able to procure it from a pharmacy that does not insist on a prescription or an online source. But this is not the right way. First of all the diagnosis may not be correct. Secondly, you are contributing to the problem of antibiotic resistance. The next time you have the same illness this antibiotic may not work and you might need a more powerful and expensive one!
Hope this article has inspired you to fight this problem of emerging antibiotic resistance!
Stay informed and stay safe!