Opinion: We are not taking antibiotic resistance seriously enough

editorial image

It was great to see the release of an antibiotic resistance advert on our TV screens last week.

I understand that it is meant to be appealing to people with no science knowledge, however I couldn’t help but feel as though it was trivialising the topic by using singing cartoon pills.

Jessica Pound

Jessica Pound

The message behind this advert and the #keepantibioticsworking campaign is to increase awareness and prevent antibiotic resistance, and that must start with patients and doctors.

Patients have a duty to take their antibiotics as stated on the packaging and complete the prescribed course even if they are feeling better; doctors have a duty to only prescribe antibiotics when needed rather than handing them out like sweets, ‘just in case’.

Antibiotic resistance is the major threat facing my generation. Resistance is building up so much to these marvellous treatments that antibiotics will soon become redundant. Can you imagine a world where antibiotics don’t work? It would be absolutely devastating.

Envisage going to the doctors with a simple ear infection, and the doctor says, ‘I’m sorry the drugs don’t work anymore, there’s nothing I can do’. The ear infection continues to worsen, entering your brain causing meningitis or an abscess, with devastating consequences.

Routine operations such as caesareans and appendix removals are predicted to cause 160 deaths a day in 30 years’ time, as infected wounds will be untreatable.

You may think these are extreme scenarios, but we are already seeing many cases of untreatable gonorrhoea spreading from person to person, and people are dying from infections resistant to all known antibiotics, even those of last resort.

At present, there is a conservative estimate of 700,000 deaths per year attributed to antibiotic resistance worldwide (5,000 alone in England) — this is only set to rise to an estimated 10 million deaths in 2050. Resistance occurs by exposing bacteria to an antibiotic designed to kill them.

If a lower dose than prescribed is taken or the course is cut short, the remaining bacteria will mutate as they strive to survive.

These mutations allow the bacteria to multiply and thrive even in the presence of antibiotics as they become resistant to the drug’s mode of action.

Antibiotics only work for bacteria, not viruses; if you beg your doctor for antibiotics for a viral infection, you are contributing to the problem. Our bodies are covered in and full of bacteria, both friendly and harmful.

Taking an antibiotic for a viral infection exposes our gut bacteria to our hand of weapons; antibiotics can kill the good bacteria while the bad bacteria mutate, this effectively makes our bodies a breeding ground for resistant bacteria which can then wreak havoc as our natural beneficial bacteria is lost.

It would be great if we could find a new generation of antibiotics to target resistant bacteria (and scientists are trying), but drug discovery takes many years and requires a lot of funding. Anyway, what would be the point in developing new antibiotics if we continue to misuse them, it would only be a matter of time before they also become redundant.

To prevent an antibiotic resistant era, it is up to us. I implore you, take antibiotics as prescribed and complete the course, it’s for the benefit of the human race.