Antibiotic Resistance: Why It’s a Problem

What’s one of the greatest threats to global health, food security, and development today?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it’s antibiotic resistance.

Since their discovery in 1928, antibiotics have been a crucial part of health care. Conservative estimations have the life-saving effect of penicillin, the first antibiotic, at up to 200 million lives. But in recent years, a new and frightening problem has cropped up: superbugs.

What are superbugs?

Superbugs are a case of super-fast micro evolution—when natural selection happens within a single species. When you treat a bacterial infection with an antibiotic, it kills off all but the strongest, most hardy little bacteria. These few surviving bacteria don’t have the power to make you sick, but they retain medication-resistant properties that they pass on when they multiply. Some strains of bacteria can even transfer their drug resistance to other bacteria.

The development of superbugs is normal and expected, but their growth has exploded due to improper antibiotic use. The CDC says around one-third of all human antibiotics are unnecessarily or inappropriately prescribed.

Why superbugs are a problem

Every year, around 2 million antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections occur. This causes up to 25,000 deaths annually. Antibiotic resistance also causes illnesses to be more severe, recovery to take longer, more doctor visits, and longer hospitalizations.

If things don’t change, common procedures will become very risky as more and more people become drug-resistant.

What you can do

An informed consumer is always the best consumer. That’s why we’re joining World Health Organization to raise awareness about drug resistance this World Antibiotic Awareness Week. Here are some steps everyone can take to reduce the impact of antibiotics on the growth of superbugs:

  • Remember that antibiotics only work for bacterial infections
  • Always ask why your doctor is prescribing an antibiotic and what the alternatives are. Your infection may be viral, or there may be other ways to heal your infection without using antibiotics.
  • Don’t pressure your doctor to give you a prescription if he doesn’t think it will be effective.
  • Avoid antibacterial handwashing soaps and antimicrobial household products.
  • Reduce your risk of contracting bacterial infections by practicing food safety and handwashing.
  • Try to eat only antibiotic-free meat if possible.
  • Wash your hands before and after visiting a hospital, rehab facility, or nursing home.
  • If you’re on antibiotics, use exactly as prescribed by your doctor and always finish the full course of medication.
  • Never take antibiotics prescribed for another person.

World governments and industry organizations need to take action as well, by encouraging the development of new antibiotic drugs, following strict infection prevention in hospitals, and reducing the amount of antibiotics given to livestock.

Superbugs are a major threat to global health, and action must be taken today to mitigate their effect.