Since the 1940s, when scientists first discovered that powerful drugs could save people’s lives, doctors have used antibiotics to prevent and treat bacterial infections. However, over the past two decades, rampant use and misuse of antibiotics have led to infectious bacteria becoming resistant to many of these drugs.
Antibacterial resistance has emerged as one of the greatest public health threats. In recent years, researchers have gathered more details on just how severe antibiotic resistance has become. They have now found evidence that we have reached a frightening new milestone, with an extremely drug-resistant bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, developing resistance very quickly to one of the last resort drugs used to treat it.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa — a bacteria that can cause a range of infections, including urinary tract infections, bone and joint infections, and respiratory infections — developed resistance to the antibiotic ceftolozane-tazobactam in just 22 days. Similar resistance to antibiotics commonly used to treat a range of stomach infections has nearly doubled in 20 years. In fact, resistance to commonly used antibiotics — such as clarithromycin — is increasing at the rate of 1 percent each year.
To measure just how resistant the population has become to antibiotics and identify which treatments can be used in the future, researchers conducted surveys on how effectively people responded to various antibiotics in 1998, 2008, and most recently, in 2018. For the 2018 survey, the researchers studied 1,232 patients from 18 countries in Europe who had contracted a Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, a harmful bacterium associated with gastric ulcer, lymphoma and gastric cancer.
The researchers found resistance to the antimicrobial clarithromycin — which is commonly used to treat H. pylori — had grown from 9.9 percent in 1998 to 21.6 percent in 2018. In addition, there has been significant growth in resistance to other powerful antibiotics, including levofloxacin, metronidazole, amoxicillin, tetracycline, and rifampicin compounds.
There is growing realization and concern, especially among health authorities, that if left unchecked continued antibiotic resistance could lead us to a ‘post-antibiotic world’ in which infections are no longer treatable and healthcare services worldwide could become disrupted.
According to the health experts, we need to slow down the use of antibiotics and use them only when necessary. Physicians prescribing antibiotics need to exercise discretion and only prescribe antibiotics when they may help patients. Additionally, patients also need to recognize the limitations of antibiotics.