We have a crisis that very few are taking seriously and if we don’t do something about it soon our health, wellbeing and medical system will break. The health system is already stretched so thin and increasingly even when the drugs are provided, they don’t work.
How many times have you taken antibiotics and not finished the treatment? How many times have you bought antibiotics without a prescription? How times have you given someone else antibiotics from your medical stash? Have you ever checked the expiry date of your drugs? How many times have you taken antibiotics without getting any medical advice to do so? I’m sure everyone has answered at least yes to one of these questions…all this contributes to antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotics, also known as antimicrobial drugs, are drugs that fight infections caused by bacteria in both humans and animals. Antibiotics fight these infections either by killing the bacteria or making it difficult for the bacteria to grow and multiply. Antibiotics only treat certain bacterial infections. Antibiotics do not have any effect on viruses. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. When bacteria become resistant, antibiotics cannot fight them, and the bacteria multiply.
Antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent threats to the public’s health. Antibiotic resistant bacteria can cause illnesses that were once easily treatable with antibiotics to become untreatable, leading to dangerous infections, higher medical costs, and longer stays in hospitals. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are often more difficult to kill and more expensive to treat. In some cases, the antibiotic-resistant infections can lead to serious disability or even death.
Overuse and misuse of antibiotics allows the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria (bacteria that antibiotics can still attack) are killed, but resistant bacteria are left to grow and multiply. This is how repeated use of antibiotics can increase the number of drug-resistant bacteria.
Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections like the common cold, flu, most sore throats, bronchitis, and many sinus and ear infections. Widespread use of antibiotics for these illnesses is an example of how overuse of antibiotics can promote the spread of antibiotic resistance. Smart use of antibiotics is key to controlling the spread of resistance.
More than half of infections are now resistant to the first-line antibiotics available in Malawi: penicillin, ampicillin and chloramphenicol. Resistance to co-trimoxazole—a combination also known as Bactrim—which is taken daily by people with HIV to prevent infections has also risen.
Tune in next week to find out what we can all do to protect ourselves and the community from antibiotic resistance.