Antibiotic resistance is a silent epidemic that claimed over 50,000 lives in only 2019-2020 alone. According to statistics, it has so far, till date resulted in more than 35000 fatalities in India. After COVID, it has turned into the silent killer.
While COVID has received much of our attention over the past few years, a more pernicious and dangerous virus has been spreading unchecked. Antimicrobial resistance, or when microorganisms elude the antibiotics we use to treat them, is the subject of this pandemic. These germs are likely referred to as “superbugs” in the popular press.
According to a recently released study, more than twice as many people died in 2019 from antibiotic resistance as did in 2020 from COVID.
The 100 trillion bacteria that reside inside each of us are a result of this, and many of them are now resistant to standard antibiotics. The disease-causing bacteria that live alongside these “good” bacteria can then acquire the resistance.
We must alter the way that antibiotics function
Antimicrobial therapy requires new ways of thinking if antibiotic resistance is to be controlled. One of these strategies involves selectively eliminating disease-causing microorganisms.
This can work because most bacteria don’t need to cause disease in order to survive, and if our treatments aren’t designed to kill them, the selection for resistant mutants will be weak, and they can go on living, while causing us no harm.
This may sound fanciful, but it is already proving effective. For example, there are drugs for urinary tract infections, that do not kill the bacteria, but instead target the molecules the bacteria need to stick to the bladder wall. This means the bacteria can’t colonise our bladders and make us sick. But as we are not trying to kill them, they have no need to learn to evade our treatments.
Another approach is to target the genes bacteria require to cause disease, making them harmless without killing them.
An advantage of antimicrobials which target pathogens specifically is that they won’t affect the “good” bacteria some of which contribute to our resistance to infection.
One limitation of these types of treatment is they will need to be specific for each type of bacterium. This means it will take significant time and effort to develop treatments for the many different types of bacteria that infect us. However we know this can be done, since we already do it for viruses (anti-virals).
What has to occur right now?
Prior to recently, large pharmaceutical corporations responded to the rise of antibiotic resistance by creating new, bacterially susceptible medications. However, fewer of these businesses are now exhibiting interest in hiring new agents. This is due to the fact that it is not cost-effective to create conventional, resistance-fostering antibiotics that will quickly become outdated.
As with climate change and other existential threats, antibiotic resistance will need to be tackled by governments in collaboration with scientists and industry.
There are other ways to combat bacterial resistance, including vaccines and ensuring antibiotics are used appropriately. But a coordinated effort comprising these strategies together with specially targeted anti-bacterial drugs, similar to those currently being used to treat viral infections, offers our best hope.
If we don’t act, we face an era resembling that before the advent of penicillin when a minor scratch could result in a fatal infection. #KhabarLive #hydnews #hyderabadlive #hyderabadi