Thursday, August 2, 2012

WHO Says?

It’s a grim statement, but it doesn’t surprise me.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the world’s population will eventually be left open to bacterial infections because bacteria is becoming so resistant to common antibiotics. This will cause the “end of modern medicine as we know it,” says Dr. Margaret Chan, the director-general of WHO. Watch Dr. Chan tell about the global crisis:

The WHO has also published a book titled The Evolving Threat of Antimicrobial Resistance, and one book excerpt states, “Bacteria which cause disease react to the antibiotics used as treatment by becoming resistant to them, sooner or later. A crisis has been building up over the decades, so that today many common and life-threatening infections are becoming difficult or even impossible to treat, sometimes turning a common infection into a life-threatening one."

The WHO also points out the biggest problem: antibiotics have been over-prescribed and used too long over the past decades. In the U.S., for example, doctors write nearly one million antibiotic prescriptions annually, but the CDC says that about half are inappropriately prescribed for viruses, not bacterial-related illnesses—and antibiotics have no effect on viruses.

Unfortunately, we also get a heaping helping of unwanted antibiotics from our conventional food supply. The Union of Concerned Scientists says that nearly 80 percent of antibiotics used in the U.S. each year—about 25 million pounds—are fed to poultry, beef cattle and other animals used for food. Those antibiotics aren’t given to the animals to treat diseases; they’re used in animals’ food to make them grow faster and to try to prevent illnesses they can get from filthy and cramped living conditions in corporate farms and feedlots.

Interestingly, over half of the antibiotics given to animals are the same ones used to combat bacteria in humans. The result is that bacteria are adapting to resist the antibiotics, becoming “super bugs,” bacteria that can’t be stopped by even the most powerful antibiotics. These bacterial superbugs have the ability to adapt quickly for survival purposes. When a new antibiotic is introduced, most of the bacteria may be killed off by it, but some survive due to their genetic structure. The mutant bacteria then grow in numbers until they dominate.

Take the bacterium E. coli, for example, which is the culprit in rising cases of antibiotic-resistant blood poisoning. Everyone has E. coli and it’s a common cause of urinary tract infections or wound infections. They’re typically minor, but if they become untreatable, then they could be deadly. Between 2005 and 2009 alone, the incidence of E. coli “bacteremias,” the presence of bacteria in the blood, rose by 30 percent in the U.K alone. E. coli’s not the only problem, either—not by a long shot.

The temptation will be to use more powerful antibiotics called carbapenems, which are the last line available. Resistance to those, however, is already happening. “In the last two or three years we have seen [organisms] develop which destroy carbapenems, says Professor Hawkey, a clinical microbiologist and chair of the government’s antibiotic-resistance working group.

So, what can be done?

Avoid antibiotic treatment and conventional foods laced with antibiotics, growth hormones and other unhealthy items. You might also be interested to know that one emerging area of research focus is the role of probiotics to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

One thing’s for sure, though. We can’t continue doing business as usual with antibiotic usage. That’s what’s led us to this global crisis.

It’s time for a change.