Increasing antibiotic resistance is a global health emergency. According to the World Health Organisation, without urgent, coordinated action, the world is heading towards a ‘post-antibiotic era’ when drugs used routinely to treat infection will be useless.
There are already antibiotic resistant strains of the sexually transmitted disease Gonorrhoea and syphilis, which are both caused by bacteria. ‘These diseases were commonplace in the past but could be getting a foothold again,’ says Professor John Oxford. ‘The number of partners you have is the key to transmission but once you have the disease, you may find that the organism is resistant to the antibiotics we use to treat it.’
Treatment failure for the drug of last resort for gonorrhoea – third generation cephalosporins – has been confirmed in several countries. These untreatable infections result in increased rates of complications such as infertility, adverse pregnancy outcomes and neonatal blindness.
TB, a lung condition which is spread through droplets in the air, is also a disease which is increasingly able to resist antibiotic treatments, so people stay infectious for longer.‘You have to use a combination of different anti-tubercular drugs (all antibacterial agents) to tackle it effectively but many people fail to keep up the course or drop one of the drugs. This can lead to drug resistance,’ explains Professor Oxford.
In 2013, according to the World Health Organisation, here were about 480,000 new cases of multidrug-resistant TB, which requires treatment courses which are much longer and less effective than for those people with non-resistant TB.
Inappropriate use of antibiotics, including in animal husbandry, is hastening the time when antibiotics will be helpless to prevent disease. Health care workers and pharmacists can help to tackle this emerging problem by only prescribing these medications when they are really needed.