Common ailments can turn into killers when the bugs become immune to more common prescription drugs available. This growing resistance to antibiotics has become a problem worldwide, according to recent research. World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan stressed that resistance is “reaching dangerously high levels.”
Resistance can occur naturally as germs mutate. But, overuse and misuse of drugs can speed the process dramatically. Chan pointed out that “super bugs haunt hospitals and intensive care units all around the world.” She also warned that the world is heading into “a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections will once again kill.”
The news is discouraging and the problem is actual two-fold: more drug-resistant bacterial infections and misuse of antibiotics weakening their effectiveness for many people when really needed. The latter is an issue with bugs that only respond to certain antibiotics, which may be the ones that are no longer effective for the person with the ailment.
Eurosurveillance, a European peer-reviewed medical journal, reported that out of 38 countries on the continent, only three countries have never encountered a patient with a drug-resistant bacterial infection (These bacteria are called CRE (carbapenem-resistant) in the U.S., and CPE (carbapenemase-producing) within the European Union.) Thirteen European countries have dealt with so many CPE outbreaks that they no longer think of the infection spread by a visiting traveler, but instead consider the problem to be a permanently established health problem within their borders. Two years ago, according to National Geographic, only six countries had reached that level of infections.
The WHO published a 12-country survey on Monday that shows that people still do not understand how antibiotic resistance arises and how they may be doing things that make the problem worse. The survey, which was conducted in Barbados, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, Sudan and Vietnam, showed that 76 percent of respondents think that antibiotic resistance means that the body becomes resistant to antibiotics. In actuality, it is the bacteria not the humans that become resistant to antibiotics, which makes the infections so hard to treat.
Other survey answers of concern because they should misinformation and misuse include:
- 66 percent of respondents think that they are not at risk of antibiotic resistant infections if they take antibiotics as prescribed.
- About 64 percent of those questioned erroneously believe that antibiotics are used to treat colds and flu (actually, they have no impact on those or any viruses).
- An optimistic 64 percent believe that medical experts will solve the antibiotic resistance problem “before it gets too serious.”
- 44 percent think antibiotic resistance is only a problem for people who take antibiotics regularly.
Public health officials are alarmed that the occurrence rate of highly drug-resistant bacteria infections is increasing around the globe and are trying to educate about the treat and dangerous behaviors that are making it worse. So, they are starting a weeklong World Antibiotic Awareness Week information onslaught in the U.S., Canada, across Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and other areas. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are encouraging Americans to “Get Smart About Antibiotics” (as their slogan says). Health officials in Europe will emphasize Antibiotic Awareness Day on Wednesday, and similar public information pushes are planned elsewhere to educate that drug resistant infections is a growing problem worldwide.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
World Health Organization: WHO multi-country survey reveals widespread public misunderstanding about antibiotic resistance
National Geographic: Drug Resistance: Worse, And Still A Lot to Learn
IBN Live: Antibiotic resistance reaching dangerously high levels worldwide: WHO
Photo courtesy Iqbal Osman’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons license