Overuse of Antibiotics Creates Superbugs

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The current antibiotics in existence are not cutting it any more, when it comes to fighting off ever-mutating viruses and bacterial infections. The bugs keep getting stronger, and becoming more and more resistant to the antibiotics they’re treated with. What’s more, the antibiotics often kill off bacteria in our guts and other parts of our bodies which are beneficial to us, and which then leaves the field wide open for the “bad” bacteria to have a field day. Overuse of antibiotics helps create superbugs.

According to a government report issued on Monday, approximately 23,000 or more of the people who get various types of infections per year in the United States die from them. The report states that vigorous steps must be made in response to a public health problem that is growing worse by the day.

Also, around a quarter of a million people each year become infected with clostridium difficile, a particularly nasty infection. Of those who become infected with it, approximately 14,000 die, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People get this life-threatening infection who have recently been given antibiotics and then have undergone medical care. Between the years 2000-2007, the deaths per year from this bacteria have increased more than five times. In 2000, a strain of c. difficile appeared which is both resistant to most common antibiotics, and also spreads quickly.

About 16,000 cases are reported in New York, alone, annually.

Besides the bacteria clostridium difficile, two others which pose an Urgent Threat according to the CDC are  drug-resistant neisseria gonorrhoeae and carbapenum-resistant enterobacteriaceae.

Several others pose a Serious Threat, such as drug-resistant streptococcus pneumoniae. Of the 1,200,000 people who become infected with it per year, 7,000 die. Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is also extremely nasty and deadly. Out of the 80,000 who become infected by it each year, 11,000 people end up dead. In comparison to some of the superbugs that are primarily spread in hospitals, MRSA is more often spread in the communities we live in.

According to CDC Director Tom Frieden. the medicines that are used today to treat those who have “life-threatening infections” are running out of their effectiveness in combating infections, and new drugs might not be around for another decade or more.

One of the reasons why our current antibiotics are no longer as effective as they one were is that they are being excessively used. The report states that as much as “half of antibiotic use in humans and much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.”

Another reason is that, as stated earlier in this article, bacteria mutate at a rapid rate to survive the antibiotics used against them. This makes hospitals, places where we go to to be healed, prime places for the bacteria to evolve into “superbugs.” Trying to treat them and keep them out of hospitals adds around $20 billion per year to the direct costs of health that we pay through our rising insurance premiums.

One more scary word of note is that the CDC report mentions that more animals — as in, livestock, for the most part — are given antibiotics than humans in an attempt to increase their rate of growth. The antibiotics cause the animals to develop disease-resistant bacteria which are then passed on to humans when we consume them. The CDC suggests that the practice of giving animals antibiotics for the purpose of attempting to increase their growth should be eventually be eliminated entirely.

The invention of new microbials is essential to continuing waging war against the eve-mutating viruses and bacteria which cause life-threatening infections in people every year. However, developing new drugs generally takes time, and time is currently on the side of the superbugs.

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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