What would you say if we told you that humans are collaborating to engineer a new ‘superbug’? An untreatable, incurable bug that would stand to kill millions of people one day. Well, it’s happening right now! We’re currently in the process of creating a super bacterium, and there’s no coming back from here.
What are Superbugs?
A superbug is a germ that is antibiotic-resistant, which simply means that they are no longer affected by the medication that’s supposed to kill them. They just keep on growing and infecting everything that comes in their way. This takes us right back to the horrors of the pre-antibiotic era. Back then, people would actually die from silly infections that we don’t think about today, like bacterial meningitis and strep throat or other serious infections that are currently treatable like pneumonia and whooping cough. 1
Prevalence of Antibiotic Resistance
The good thing is, we’re living in a time way after the discovery of antibiotics which when combined with vaccinations, have revolutionized the fate of medicine, and saved billions of lives. But the bad thing is, we’re also living in a time when more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the US every year, and over 35,000 people die as a result.2
This phenomenon is utterly worse in developing countries, where it shows a profound surge of cases due to a lack of appropriate regulations when it comes to taking antibiotics, bad habits, and unsafe sanitary practices. This is why there’s a difference between antibiotic treatments among developed and developing countries. The first is used sensibly and targeted to specific microbes, while the latter is unselective to the cause of disease and used rather haphazardly. 3
Reasons Behind Antibiotic Resistance
Overuse and misuse of antibiotics are the two main culprits in promoting antibiotic resistance.4 This is practiced by most of us, when we take unprescribed antibiotics when we start feeling symptoms without getting diagnosed first by a professional, or when we stop taking our prescribed antibiotics immediately when we feel better. Perhaps we just forget to take our dose and mess up the whole medication cycle. This all contributes to spreading the resistance cycle and developing germs that are so strong they can defeat us. We’re not even talking about a small-scale level superbug; we’re talking about a whole army that will spread and prevail, starting with just one! Here’s how it happens:
How Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Transfers Immunity
A bacterium that survives attacks by an antibiotic will multiply and pass on their resistance mojo to other bacteria -like a cheat sheet- leading to the development of the unstoppable superbug army.5
“Without urgent action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill.” – the World Health Organization warns us6
Impact of Antibiotic Resistance Crisis
If you ask me, I think we’re already there! The major impact antibiotic resistance has on our lives is undeniable; imagine the burden when an infection can no longer be treated, alternative expensive medications will have to be used, longer duration of illness, maybe longer stays at hospitals as well. In addition, the toll it has on practicing modern medicine, when there’s no telling if doctors will be able to prevent infections after routine procedures like organ transplantations, caesarian birth, surgeries, or chemotherapy. It will undoubtedly have serious consequences on how medical decisions are approached.6
What Can you Do to Avoid antibiotic resistance?
Reaching this part of the article, I know you’re probably starting to overthink everything, but I don’t want you to lose hope yet. Here are some measures you can take and tips to follow so you can avoid antibiotic resistance and stay away from infections:6–8
- Make sure to always clean and wash your hand properly; it’s the best approach to keep away infections – hand washing a day keeps the doctor away!
- Stay up to date with your vaccinations – it’s a critical step in preventing infections and microbe resistance.
- Never use antibiotics without a prescription from a health care professional.
- Make sure you keep an organized timeline of your antibiotic medication.
- Avoid close contact with sick people.
- Practice safe habits when cooking and eating
- Practice safe sex
- Stay safe in case you’re traveling abroad, follow protocols, and educate yourself about medical tourism.
A next-generation solution to this crisis is the discovery of fatty acids extracted from plant, bacterial, algae sources that have the potential of containing antibacterial compounds, which can be further utilized and synthesized as new antimicrobial agents. The medical literature is filled with research studies conducted on these samples that resulted in considerable improvement in identifying novel promising drug candidates that can be used as alternatives in cases of antimicrobial resistance. They may even have the potential to be more effective and more potent.9
The bottom line is, for many years, the production of antibiotics surpassed the prevalence of antibiotic resistance. Lately though, the speed of antibiotic resistance has outpaced our existing antibiotics, leading to the dire complications we’re currently living with today. Not to worry though, the fight is far from over! As bacteria grow more potent and more resistant, scientific breakthroughs come to the rescue with counteracting discoveries thanks to the efforts spent by our round-the-clock working researchers. Superbugs may be an upcoming reality, but our scientific superheroes are well-prepared for what’s to come!
- The History of Antibiotics - HealthyChildren.org [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2022 Feb 6]. Available from: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/treatments/Pages/The-History-of-Antibiotics.aspx
- Center for Disease Control (CDC). About Antibiotic Resistance | CDC [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2022 Feb 6]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/about.html
- Hassan M. Scenario of Antibiotic Resistance in Developing Countries | IntechOpen [Internet]. Book Chapter. 2020 [cited 2022 Feb 6]. Available from: https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/74593
- Lee Ventola C. The Antibiotic Resistance Crisis Part 1: Causes and Threats. Vol. 40. 2015.
- HHS, CDC. HOW ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE HAPPENS 1 [Internet]. 2021. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/about/how-resistance-happens.html
- World Health Organization (WHO). Antibiotic resistance [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2022 Feb 6]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/antibiotic-resistance
- Center for Disease Control (CDC). Protect Yourself and Your Family | CDC [Internet]. 2021. [cited 2022 Feb 6]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/protect-yourself-family.html
- Center for Disease Control (CDC). 5 Things to Know | CDC [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2022 Feb 6]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/about/5-things-to-know.html
- Casillas-Vargas G, Ocasio-Malavé C, Medina S, Morales-Guzmán C, del Valle RG, Carballeira NM, et al. Antibacterial fatty acids: An update of possible mechanisms of action and implications in the development of the next-generation of antibacterial agents. Vol. 82, Progress in Lipid Research. Elsevier Ltd; 2021.