No matter the country in the world you come from, you’re bound to have been prescribed a ‘course’ of antibiotics by your GP at some point. No doubt, they are the best choice when it comes to treating an intermittent infection – but are more often than not being misused.

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Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a common problem among hospitalised patients throughout the world. Image by NIAID.

Many believe antibiotics are freely prescribed to a range of diseases that do not in fact require such a strong medicine. In fact, antibiotics could be doing more wrong than good when it comes to diseases other than infections: taking the medicine without clear need and prescription could cause the body’s natural microflora to be damaged, causing side effects ranging from mild stomach pain to a strong diarrhoea, as well as destroying what sometimes is positively assisting your immune system rather than provoking it.

The world is now coming to a period where more antimicrobials are needed every day, due to an increasing number of antimicrobials resistance cases being reported by hospitals and health centres. But how does resistance develops? Microbes, most distinctly bacteria, are able to ‘pass on’ the genetic information containing the resistance gene to others. Normally, when antibiotics are prescribed and their course followed correctly, there’s still the possibility that a few microbes might already be resistant and not be removed by the antibiotic; moreover, bacteria that are already present within the body and are part of the normal microbiota can also be killed. These ‘leftover’ resistant microbes might then replicate (which is done exponentially and fairly quickly) and cause more severe diseases, which then cannot be fought off by the normal microflora or with the previous antimicrobial used.

With the widespread misuse of antibiotics, it’s not surprising that resistance is becoming such a threat. The most urgent bacterial resistant threats known today include Clostridium difficile, which causes diarrhoea, abdominal pain and, in extreme cases, life-threatening bowel swelling; Neisseria gonorrhoea, known for causing gonorrhoea; and Carbapenem- resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), a group of bacteria responsible for causing the most diverse of infections, including pneumonia.

The danger is such that governments are offering pharmaceutical companies incentives to start producing new antibiotics which could overcome the worldwide threat. Producing any type of medicine, however, takes time; and all we can do now is wait.

 

By Marcela Usmari