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Antimicrobial resistance projected to kill 10 million people each year

Antibiotics have revolutionized medicine, saving countless lives. However, the overuse and misuse of these vital drugs have fueled the rise of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), a silent pandemic threatening to undermine decades of medical progress. Dr. James Gill, a respected physician who both practices medicine and teaches at the University of Warwick, will join policymakers at the House of Lords on Monday (April 29) for a crucial event addressing the global crisis of antimicrobial resistance.

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are powerful tools, but they have a specific target. They work by attacking the inner workings of bacteria, but viruses operate completely differently. Viruses take over your own cells to survive and replicate, rendering antibiotics useless.

That’s why taking antibiotics for a cold or viral sore throat won’t make you feel better. In fact, it can increase your risk of developing antibiotic-resistant infections in the future. Antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections like strep throat, some ear infections, specific types of pneumonia, and bacterial UTIs.

Why antibiotics dosage matters

Doctors carefully calculate how long you need to take the medication to fully eliminate the harmful bacteria. If you stop taking antibiotics early, even if you feel better, some bacteria may survive. These survivors are likely to be the strongest, most resistant strains, able to multiply and create a harder-to-treat infection. That’s why it’s so important to finish the entire course of antibiotics as prescribed, even if you start to feel better.

While antibiotics save lives, they can sometimes have unintended consequences. Our bodies are home to vast communities of beneficial bacteria, especially in the gut. Antibiotics can sometimes disrupt the balance of those microbes, leading to issues like diarrhea, upset stomach, or yeast infections.

Additionally, some people may experience allergic reactions, increased sensitivity to the sun, or interactions with other medications. It’s crucial to speak with your doctor about the potential side effects of specific antibiotics and to report any you experience while taking them.

Growing crisis of antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance is a natural process of evolution. Bacteria, fungi, and other microbes constantly adapt and change over time to survive in their environment. When exposed to antimicrobial drugs (like antibiotics and antifungals), some of these microbes may develop mutations that allow them to resist the effects of those drugs.

Over time, these resistant microbes can multiply and spread, leading to infections that are incredibly difficult to treat with existing medications, sometimes even impossible. We often call these resistant strains “superbugs.”

Antimicrobial resistance and global crisis

AMR poses a direct threat to modern medicine. Many procedures and treatments we take for granted – such as surgeries, transplants, cancer therapy, and even routine care for conditions like diabetes – rely on the effectiveness of antimicrobials to prevent and treat infections.

As drug resistance grows, these advancements are in jeopardy. Projections suggest that, without urgent action, AMR could be responsible for up to 10 million deaths per year globally by 2050, surpassing the current toll of diseases like cancer.

Changing the mindset towards antimicrobial resistance

For decades, antibiotics have been seen as a near-universal solution for a wide array of illnesses. However, this oversimplified view has contributed to the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. To fight back against antimicrobial resistance, we need a more nuanced approach that recognizes the limitations and potential consequences of these drugs.

Understanding limitations

While incredibly powerful, antibiotics aren’t a “cure-all.” They are specifically designed to fight bacterial infections and are ineffective against viral illnesses. Using them inappropriately does nothing to speed up recovery and instead contributes to the growing problem of resistance.

Collateral damage

Every time we use antibiotics, we risk affecting the delicate balance of beneficial bacteria found naturally within our bodies. This disruption can have unintended health consequences, and repeated exposure to antibiotics increases the risk of developing resistant infections.

“Antibiotics have been perceived as magic bullets, capable of swiftly addressing various ailments. However, their indiscriminate use poses significant risks, both in terms of adverse effects and the development of resistance,” said Dr. James Gill.

Combating antimicrobial resistance crisis

The fight against AMR requires a comprehensive, global approach. Scientists are actively working to develop new antibiotic medications and alternative treatments for infections. In addition, public awareness campaigns like The Fleming Initiative and YouTube Health collaboration are essential.

These initiatives empower the public with knowledge about AMR and promote responsible antibiotic use, ensuring these life-saving medications remain effective for generations to come.

Patients play a crucial role in safeguarding the effectiveness of antibiotics. Here’s how you can make a difference:

  • Engage your doctor: Openly discuss with your doctor whether antibiotics are truly necessary for your specific condition. Explore alternative treatment options when appropriate.
  • Follow instructions: If antibiotics are prescribed, adhere strictly to the recommended dosage and duration of treatment. Never share or save leftover antibiotics.
  • Stay informed: Educate yourself about the risks of AMR and the importance of judicious antibiotic use.

Study significance

“A fundamental shift in patient perception is imperative. Rather than viewing antibiotics as a panacea, patients must understand the potential harm associated with their misuse,” noted Dr. Gill.

The AMR crisis demands a collective shift in how we perceive and use antibiotics. By working together with healthcare professionals, embracing informed usage, and supporting research, we can preserve the power of these life-saving medications for generations to come.


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