Meditation & Health #25 – The Rise of Superbugs
The Rise of Superbugs
By Lesley & Qing Cha
When there is an overuse or repeated use of antibiotics, antibiotic-resistant bacteria will increase in number over time.
In 1928 Sir Alexander Fleming (1881 — 1955) discovered, by accident, a class of antibiotic known as penicillin. A milestone discovery in the 20th century, it was a turning point in history. From fighting a large number of deadly bacterial diseases such as pneumonia, cholera, tetanus and syphilis, the antibiotic was extended to use in livestock management, which greatly helped in sustaining populations of animals reared for consumption. The use of antibiotics has in many ways changed life on Earth for the better. However, the consequences of the widespread use of antibiotics are a cause of great concern now. Antibiotics can actually pose life-threatening dangers.
Antibiotics Versus Anti-Inflammatories
Patients can be confused by two distinct classes of drugs: antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. Antibiotics are effective drugs for the treatment of bacterial infections. However, some inflammations are caused by viruses. In such instances, antibiotics would not be effective and so they are not used to treat all types of infections that lead to inflammation.
There are three ways that antibiotics fight bacterial infections, all of which either destroy the bacteria or stop them from reproducing: attacking the bacterial cell wall or coating surrounding bacteria; interfering with bacteria reproduction; or blocking protein production in bacteria. However, in the process of destroying harmful bacteria, the antibiotics also kill good bacteria (probiotics), which keep our gut — and indeed the total body — healthy.
…these animals become carriers of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, infecting not only the people who consume the meat but the environment as well when animal wastes are discharged into water and land.
Rise of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria
When a person takes antibiotics, most bacteria are killed. But resistant bacteria are left to grow and multiply. This happens if the antibiotic is not finished completely or stopped too soon. When there is an overuse or repeated use of antibiotics, antibiotic-resistant bacteria will increase in number over time.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can cause dangerous infections, as illnesses that were once easily treatable with antibiotics become incurable. This happens because these bacteria have become resistant and start to defeat drugs designed to curb their growth or destroy them. The word “superbug” was coined to define bacteria that cannot be treated with two or more antibiotics.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than two million people in the United States are sickened every year with antibiotic-resistant infections, with at least 23,000 dying as a result.
In 2016 economist Jim O’Neill and his team published a report which outlined that by 2050, an estimated 10 million lives a year will be lost to superbugs, and the situation will only worsen. The accompanying cumulative economic cost is predicted to be 100 trillion dollars.
Scientists are racing to develop more effective antibacterial treatments to target serious infections caused by superbugs. However, these bacteria are evolving at a much greater speed than antibiotics. New medicines are becoming obsolete too quickly, which raises the cost of research. From the profitability point of view, many pharmaceutical companies are not keen on moving forward with finding new cures. With superbugs getting stronger andno new antibiotics, there are dire implications for our health.
Threat to Human Health
The emerging antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest threats to human health today and the danger is present in every country. Our ability to treat infectious diseases which used to be curable, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, sepsis, and gonorrhea, is now severely compromised, resulting in prolonged illness and even death.
Procedures performed to manage diabetes, chemotherapy, and organ transplantation and other major surgeries have become riskier given the new reality that infections cannot necessarily be met with effective antibiotics.
The word “superbug” was coined to define bacteria that cannot be treated with two or more antibiotics….
With superbugs getting stronger and no new antibiotics, there are dire implications for our health.
Antibiotic Use in Animal Agriculture
Many of us may assume that since we do not often use antibiotics, we are therefore safe from superbugs. What many people do not realize is that there is a human cost to the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock management. There is a direct link between such use and risks to human health.
Globally, animals are considered important food sources — meat, milk and eggs are important dietary components for billions of people. Severe economic losses are brought on when animals contract contagious bacterial diseases. As animals are kept in large groups in close proximity, one effective way to mitigate the impact of disease is to use antibiotics
to treat the sick or when an outbreak is anticipated. As a direct consequence, these animals become carriers of dangerous antibiotic-resistant superbugs, infecting not only the people who consume the meat but the environment as well when animal wastes are discharged into water and land.
Global Action Plan
In May 2015, the World Health Assembly set out a global action plan with the following objectives to manage the antibiotic-resistance crisis:
• improve awareness and understanding of antimicrobial resistance;
• strengthen knowledge through surveillance and research;
• reduce the incidence of infection;
• optimize the use of antimicrobial agents;
• develop the economic case for sustainable investment that takes into account the needs of all countries, and increase investment in new medicines, diagnostic tools, vaccines, and other interventions.
In 2006, the European Union (EU) banned the use of antibiotics in the food and water of livestock. The rates of reduction in antibiotic use vary across EU countries. Germany, France and the United Kingdom have all seen declines in antibiotic use.
In January 2017 the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) which states that livestock farmers are no longer allowed to buy over-the-counter medicated feed if it contains antimicrobials. They have to work with veterinarians to use antibiotics in animal feed when necessary. The use of antibiotics to promote animal growth is banned.
Antibiotics have saved countless lives since their discovery. However, the overuse or misuse of these drugs poses a serious threat to human health. No longer can we afford to be complacent. We are responsible for our own health and cannot carelessly rely on antibiotics to defeat every infection. Illness prevention and alternative treatment must be priorities in modern healthcare.