A Post Antibiotic Era?

In 1928 Sir Alexander Fleming revolutionised medicine with the discovery of penicillin, the first antibiotic.  His discovery allowed for quick solutions to common infections, preventing an unimaginable amount of deaths which before 1928 were commonplace.

However, this era of healthcare luxury may be coming to an end, leaving mankind staring into a bleak future.

Antibiotic resistance is beginning to render most drugs we take for granted today useless, the era of the ‘superbug’ may be much sooner than we think.  Bacteria are learning to deal with the drugs we throw at them at an alarmingly increasing speed, and the more we use these drugs, the more ineffective they become.

This trend is perhaps illustrated best by the spending plans of pharmaceutical companies, who see antibiotics as a shrinking market with little return on investment.  A firm may spend 10 years formulating an antibiotic, only for it to be rendered useless by bacteria a year later. In turn, this means that there is increasingly less effective drugs available to cure preventable diseases, and less money being pumped into antibiotic R&D.

The acceleration of bacteria resistance is caused partially by haphazard medical practice. For example, 45% of the prescriptions given by GP’s do not fix the issue they were prescribed for, wasting money and time whilst allowing bacteria to build up defences against these drugs.

New super-infections such as KPC, NDM and MRSA are beginning to gain traction in nearly every continent globally, effecting both developed and developing nations. And although we may take comfort in assuming cases of these diseases are extraordinary ‘one-offs’, 50,000 people in the USA and Europe died from infections last year which could not have been prevented by drugs.

A British based and funded medical enquiring into microbial resistance projects that if we can’t reign in the casual use of antibiotics that we practice today, by 2050, bacteria will have gained enough resistance to claim 10,000,000 lives a year.

Anti-biotics may well be the supporter of modern life and medicine, saving people with weakened immune systems, cancer patients, AIDS patients, transplant recipients, and even premature babies are all reliant on these drugs to sustain their lives.

The end of antibiotics would spell the end to the confident way in which we conduct life at present, as common infections begin to regain prevalence and claim victims from injuries and illnesses that we only view as minor hiccups today.

Sir Fleming himself warned:

“The thoughtless person playing with penicillin treatment is morally responsible for the death of the man which succumbs to infection with the penicillin-resistant organism.”

And it would seem that these dark warnings are now coming to fruition.

Without careful planning, leadership and coherent action from national governments and supranational organisations this problem has the potential to become a global crisis and must not be underestimated. The future of the livelihoods we enjoy today may depend on it.