Antibiotics have always been an ally of human beings in the fight against diseases and infections. However, this reality is changing.
The misuse of these drugs has created a variety of superbugs that are much more resistant to different types of antibiotics and that already kill around 700 thousand people per year worldwide. The problem is so big that this phenomenon is already considered an epidemic.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of 2050, superbugs will kill 10 million people a year, exceeding the current number of cancer deaths , which is approximately 8.2 million.
How do superbugs arise?
Bacteria are among the oldest and most prevalent living beings on the planet, and can be found almost anywhere.
The human body is home to trillions of them, most of which are harmless and help the body to function properly. In the same way, there are bacteria that are quite harmful, generating several symptoms.
Until the invention of antibiotics, it was common for these living beings to end up killing many people. In that sense, antibiotics, together with vaccination, saved millions of lives.
And how do antibiotics work? Well, in order to understand this question, it is necessary to think of the bacteria as if it were a complicated machine, with millions of operations taking place every second.
Some antibiotics will act by preventing important structures of this microorganism from functioning, leaving it weakened and more susceptible to attacks by the immune system (our defense system that fights infections).
Other antibiotics have a direct action on DNA, preventing the bacteria from functioning and killing it.
There are also those that simply destroy the outermost layers of the bacteria, so that the inner part of the microorganism is expelled, causing the bacteria to die. All of this without affecting the other natural cells in the body.
The big question is that the life cycle of bacteria is very fast, that is, they reproduce very quickly. And when the patient takes the antibiotic, the bacteria continue to reproduce, even if in a smaller number.
The appearance of superbugs occurs during this process. Because of genetic mutations in their DNA, some bacteria are born more resistant to the action of antibiotics, making the medication not have much effect on it.
The way these bacteria become immune varies widely.
Some are capable of producing toxins that neutralize the action of antibiotics. Others develop a filter that prevents the penetration of the substance or “bombs” that expel the antibiotic that has already entered its internal part before it can perform any action.
When superbugs come into existence, only a few immune specimens appear. This is not a big problem, as the immune system can handle a few. The concern happens even when they reproduce and are in large quantities in the body.
According to the doctor of pharmacology, Francielle Matias, “the main cause of the problem is the incorrect use of the antibiotic, such as taking the medication without having to, using alcohol during treatment, forgetting to take the doses at the right time or finish the treatment on your own, before the date stipulated by the doctor on the prescription ” .
There are still problems with the prescription of these drugs. The misconception usually occurs when they are used to treat cold and flu symptoms, which are viral infections (that is, they do not involve bacteria).
According to the WHO, the estimate is that up to 50% of the use of antibiotics is inadequate, which increases the costs of treatment and raises the rates of morbidity and mortality.
All of these behaviors compromise the action of the antibiotic, leaving it less effective and giving space for the emergence of bacteria resistant to the medication used.
“Especially in cases where the patient takes less time and does not respect the schedules, the bacteria is not eliminated and the presence of the low dose of the drug favors the appearance of resistance mechanisms” , completes the doctor.
She also points out that the incorrect disposal of medicines (throwing the medicine in the sink or the toilet, for example) can end up contaminating the environment with low concentrations of antibiotics.
In this way, the bacteria present in the aquatic environment are able to develop antibiotic resistance mechanisms even before infecting a person or animal.
Francielle brings yet another possibility: “There are also studies demonstrating the connection of antibiotics used in animals and the resistance found in humans, since human beings feed on animals treated with antibiotics”.
That is, the amount of antibiotics administered to these animals on the farm can also contribute to the emergence of superbugs.
Can superbacteria kill?
Yes, a lot! Superbacteria have the potential to affect anyone at any time in life. In addition, they can affect health, veterinary and agro-industrial systems, making superbugs one of the most urgent topics in public health.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, the CDC, each year, at least 2 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria and at least 23,000 of these people die.
No one can be completely prevented from the risk of these infections, but some people are at greater risk than others, such as those who suffer from chronic diseases.
Thus, if antibiotics lose their effectiveness, humanity as a whole may lose the ability to treat infections and control threats to the health of the population.
A brief history of antibiotics
Penicillin was the first antibiotic to be marketed. It was discovered in 1928 by scientist Alexander Fleming.
This discovery represented a giant revolution for Western medicine, which had now found a way to fight microorganisms, treating diseases such as pneumonia , bacterial meningitis and infections of the skin and other organs.
Since then, the understanding of this drug has increased dramatically, as well as the number of antibiotics discovered has also grown, because with widespread use, more and more microorganisms have been creating resistance until the time of the development and crisis of superbugs.
What to do to fight superbugs?
Facing superbugs will be an arduous task for both society and the pharmaceutical industry. As Dr. Francielle explains:
“New drugs take 12 to 15 years to enter the market, as they need to be tested until they are safely marketed. However, the rate at which bacteria create resistance mechanisms is much faster than that, which means that the pharmaceutical industry has significant barriers to producing effective drugs. ”
For this reason, the main measures to be taken at the moment involve prevention and awareness.
“I believe it is time to invest in prevention. The whole of society united, doctors being cautious when prescribing, patients aware of the use only when there is a real need and with a commitment to use according to the prescription, in addition to the care with the incorrect disposal of these drugs ” , says the doctor.
The doctor will only prescribe the antibiotic in cases of diseases caused by bacteria, such as pneumonia and gonorrhea , or after surgery, to prevent possible infections.
Thus, the actions you can take to fight superbugs are:
- Take the medication for the prescribed time. That is, if the doctor prescribed antibiotics for 7 days, you should take them for the full 7 days, even if the symptoms have already subsided, as the infection may not have been eliminated yet;
- Take the medicine at the right time. If the recipe says you should take it every 12 hours, pay attention to those numbers. This way, you will be making the antibiotic perform as well as possible when fighting the bacteria;
- Respect the instructions and instructions for use. Do not drink alcoholic beverages during treatment – reading the package insert is always essential;
- Do not discard the medicine in the sink or toilet bowl. Go to pharmacies and health centers. In these places, there are usually specific disposal sites for medicines;
- Never take antibiotics without the doctor’s express consent and indication;
- Take preventive measures against infections: wash your hands frequently, have good hygiene habits and keep your health up to date with high immunity. That way, you will be fighting bacteria indirectly;
- Make your friends and family aware of the danger of superbugs.
Superbacteria are a huge challenge for the near future. At the moment, the main actions to be taken are the prevention and awareness of the population.
So, share this text with your friends and family so they know how to fight superbugs!
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