Drug resistant bacteria. It’s taken two decades of warnings, but health officials finally concede the golden age of miracle drugs has come to an end and the future may not be pretty.
Recently the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) declared antimicrobial resistance a “fundamental threat to human health” in light of the drug resistant bacteria that are killing 23,000 people a year in the U.S. and 700,000 globally. In September the United Nations General Assembly voted to take “a broad, coordinated approach” to go after antimicrobial resistance in only the fourth time a health issue has been taken up by the U.N. General Assembly (the others were HIV, noncommunicable diseases, and Ebola).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says in the U.S. alone, more than two million people are infected by drug resistant bacteria each year as antibiotic ineffectiveness continues to climb.
A report by the UK government predicts 10 million people a year will die from superbugs by 2050, and antibiotic resistance will cost the global economy $8 trillion annually.
“Increasing antibiotic resistance is a major concern and already affects every medical practice as it limits the treatment options that physicians have,” says infectious disease specialist Dr. Aaron Glatt.
The genesis of the problem is mainly from overuse. Drug resistant bacteria are now found virtually everywhere. They’ve developed as people pop antibiotics to treat various ills caused by viruses and fungi that are not affected by the drugs. They grow in farm animals fed antibiotics not to treat disease, but to make them grow fatter and faster. This allows them to save on food. They’re found in city sewer systems and in hospital sinks.
While health organizations have been slow to act, some doctors, researchers, and activists have seen the writing on the wall and are making adjustments.
New York City dermatologist Dina D. Strachan says she’s aware that dermatologists are writing 20 percent of all antibiotic prescriptions even though dermatologists only make up 2 percent of all doctors.
“Many of these prescriptions are for the treatment of acne and rosacea and that their effects are largely anti-inflammatory,” Strachan says. “For several years now I have tried to avoid using either topical or oral antibiotics if I am not treating an infection.”
Strachan says dermatologists are now using sub antimicrobial doses of antibiotics for inflammatory conditions but she does not believe this contributes to drug resistant bacteria.
“We also have some new anti-inflammatory medications for acne and rosacea, which are not antibiotics,” Strachan says.
Dr. Lisa Ashe, medical director of the Be Well Medical Group serving the Washington D.C. area, says this is a “huge problem seen in every country” especially when prescribers are giving out antibiotics for everything including viral illnesses like colds and flu (antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections and not viruses).
Report after report has done little to stop the clamor for antibiotics and even doctors are failing to heed the warnings. A third of antibiotic prescriptions written in the U.S. are for viral infections, the CDC says.
That has led to on-the-spot tests that indicate right away whether a patient has a bacterial or viral infection to help doctors fight back against demands for a prescription, and can help an anxious patient feel confident that drugs really won’t help their wailing child’s ear infection, says American Society for Microbiology President Susan Sharp.
Patients, according to Ashe, also have to accept some of the blame for superbugs.
“Patients should take antibiotics exactly as the doctor prescribes without skipping doses and to completion. When physicians overprescribe and patients do not take the full regimen that increases bacterial resistance.”
Ashe says doctors can reduce the odds of resistance by alternating the antibiotics they use for certain infections if the infection is susceptible to multiple antibiotics. (We advocate for natural antibiotics whenever possible).
Additionally, says Ashe, some “hospitals now have antibiotic steward programs that require [doctors] to justify the use of antibiotics and set a limit on the amount of days prescribed.”
What’s Not New In Antibiotics
The last really new class of antibiotics was invented in 1984, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. Every new antibiotic to hit the market since then — and there have not been many — is a variation on a decades-old design.
“If antibiotics were telephones, we would still be calling each other using clunky rotary dials and copper lines,” says Stefano Bertuzzi, CEO of the American Society for Microbiology.
Critics point to Big Pharma and say there is no financial incentive to develop new antibiotics since world health organizations are advising doctors to lay off using them. Also, if antibiotics are used, they are generally used for the short-term, not like the long-term therapies that help bring in revenues for pharmaceutical companies.
On the other hand, what difference would a new class of antibiotics make given all the abuses such as a report by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are fed to farm animals. This means that in the United States only 20 percent of antibiotics, which were originally developed to protect human health, are actually used to treat infections in animals. Experts say the wholesale use of antibiotics in farm animals has to stop because they are pooping out superbugs that have evolved in their guts.
Too Little Too Late?
The thing about superbugs: increasing the potency of the antibiotic doesn’t really make a difference as illustrated in this video where bacteria invade antibiotics of various strengths but still evolve into superbugs.
Then earlier this year, something truly horrifying occurred when a virulent strain of E. coli, resistant to colistin, reached the United States. Colistin was supposed to be an antibiotic of last resort until it was abused in the meat industry. The super resistance to the super antibiotic is in the form of the mcr-1 gene, found on a little clip of DNA called a plasmid that various species of bacteria can pass around and share like an internet meme.
Drug Resistant Bacteria: What’s The Fix?
A new study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) calls for a broader approach to address bacterial infection. A more preventative holistic approach is recommended along with probiotics. However, these treatments could be decades into the future before they become practical.
The one functional method today is high-quality colloidal silver, which has been proven in modern lab conditions to wipe out over 630 exotic and common pathogens while improving overall resistance against an incredible spectrum of human ailments. An even more powerful, modern version of this is chelated silver, which binds to the infected areas with 100-200 times higher bioavailability, making it the most powerful natural antimicrobial in the market. Both applications don’t compromise the immune system, but are able to wipe out even the sturdiest superbugs.
When Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the U.N.’s World Health Organization, says “We are running out of time,” what she really means is that we’re running out of time for antibiotics. The natural cure is and has always been here.