November 12-18 is celebrated throughout the world as World Antibiotic Awareness Week.
When we are sick from infections, we want to know that there is a cure. Antibiotics are precious medicines that should kill bacteria that cause infections, but unfortunately, some antibiotics are no longer effective. This is mainly because the precious medicines have been overused and misused over time, aiding changes in the bacteria. These changes make the precious medicines ineffective; in other words, the bacteria become resistant (or no longer respond) to the antibiotics.
Although the changes alluded to naturally occur in the bacteria as a survival strategy, when we overuse and misuse antibiotics the changes in the bacteria that make the antibiotics ineffective occur at a faster rate.
When the bacteria change and no longer respond to antibiotics the consequences are dire. For example, when we are sick, the antibiotics will not be able to deal with the sickness. Eye infections, ear infections, urinary tract infections, etc. may become untreatable. Modern clinical procedures such as surgery or chemotherapy will be risky without antibiotics that will be able to fight infections/diseases.
Photograph: Science History Images/Alamy/ and black doctor.org
The world health organization has indicated that by 2050, 10million people will die of antibiotic-resistant infections if no solutions are found or if nothing is done about the situation. It means we are likely to lose critical staff and breadwinners. If people are sick and they are spending long periods in the hospitals because no antibiotic is working, such persons will not be able to work; this can have negative economic implications.
The good news is that we can all do something to help stop or slow down the spread of antibiotic resistance.
There is a saying that to deal with the enemy, you need to know the enemy. We need more information on these resistant bacteria. For me as a medical research scientist, aside being part of the global force creating the awareness to handle antibiotics with care to stop or slow down antibiotic resistance, I am involved in a number of surveillance activities together with a team to understand resistant bacteria in humans, livestock and the environment. We investigate the bacteria to know which antibiotics will be resistant/susceptible or ‘work’ to inform treatment decisions. We also use cutting edge tools to track the transmission of these resistant germs in hospitals and community settings. We are also involved in the training of laboratory staff (in Ghana and in the West African region) so that they can identify these bacteria as well as determine which antibiotics can be used in treatment.
Think of how you can also help to stop or slow down the spread of antibiotic resistance; below are a few suggestions:
- Generally, if infections are prevented antibiotic treatment can be avoided (overuse and misuse of these precious medicines fast-track the changes in bacteria and subsequent resistance to the antibiotics), therefore simple handwashing can prevent a lot of infections/illnesses and this will reduce the need to take antibiotics.
- Antibiotics work for bacterial infections, so if you have conditions caused by a virus (e.g colds) there is no need to take antibiotics. Seek professional advice and follow the treatment plan.
- Avoid sharing antibiotics with family and friends. You may have similar symptoms with a friend or family but the germs involved may be totally different. Seek professional advice and follow a treatment plan.
- If you have a runny stomach and the doctor/clinician is treating with fluids, please don’t pressure the doctor to give you antibiotics; follow a treatment plan from the clinician.
To summarise, antibiotic resistance is accelerated by misuse and overuse of the precious medicines called antibiotics, as well as poor infection control. When bacteria become resistant to the antibiotics, our infections can become untreatable; our surgical procedures become risky/unsafe; this is a terrible situation.
Everybody has a role to play to stop or slow down the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Antibiotics are precious; let’s handle them with care.
Let’s spread the message.