Our modern, western lifestyle presupposes many things. The feeling of safety and freedom. Trips to distant countries, where the microflora is different. Successful recovery from minor cuts or infections, pneumonia or surgery. These ordinary luxuries are often taken for granted, but they can very soon become real life threats again. 87 years after the first discovery of antibiotics, we are heading back to the pre-antibiotics era again. And with this, our freedom is decreasing.
To prescribe or not to prescribe – sadly rarely a question
Antibiotics are wonderful weapons which allow us to kill disease-causing bacteria. It has become such an ordinary part of healthcare and its importance is often underrated. However, in order to keep this fantastic weapon, we need to use it restrictively. Already in 1945, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Alexander Fleming warned that misuse of antibiotics would cause resistance. Despite numerous warnings since, doctors are over-prescribing antibiotics, and it’s currently estimated that 700000 people worldwide die from antibiotic resistant bacteria. If we don’t find new ways to fight it, by 2050 the yearly death count is predicted to reach 10 million. To put it into perspective – that’s more than currently die from cancer or diabetes combined.
But it is not only in the health sector that handles antibiotics irresponsibly. Another big villain is the food industry with the factory farms in the front line. In 2010, over 60000 tons of antibiotics were used on farms worldwide and the numbers are increasing. As Lance Price explains in his TEDxManhattan talk, the system is broken. With antibiotics used so carelessly and broadly, the bacteria develop resistance faster than we can discover new antibiotics. So we need to do something to change the system. We need to realize that antibiotics are powerful weapons, to be used only when truly needed. As the old proverb goes – “when in doubt, do without”.