Antibiotics, their overuse; viruses & bacteria, their supremacy

This coronavirus looks deadly and is

This coronavirus looks deadly and is

I have long thought that we will succumb to the bugs of the world. Infectious diseases have been and still are the bane of animal life on this planet. Our ability to isolate bacteria and devise antibiotics to combat the spread of infectious diseases is a profound achievement in medicine. Vaccines and antibiotics have been available for well over 50 years in the developed world. In the interim, we have been able to address the mortality rate due to infection and restrict the bacterial spread of some of the most virulent kind throughout communities.

Public Health agencies monitor, recommend and control as much as possible the spread of infectious disease within our burgeoning urban areas. Cities pose a great problem as people crowd in their millions into close surroundings. The megacities pose a greater problem and:

 as of 2011, there are over 20 megacities in existence … having populations in excess of 20 million inhabitants each.

It is estimated that by 2030 three out of five people will live in cities. The containment of infectious diseases is of vital importance when so many people live cheek by jowl. The use and possible over use of antimicrobial drug therapy has led to problems that are now being warned against by Public Health agencies in a number of developed countries.

streptococcus pneumoniae. Clever little one this. Knows where to hit.

streptococcus pneumoniae. Clever little one this. Knows where to hit.

The problem is that as microbial resistance leads to the emergence of new highly infectious bacteria and viruses, the discovery and development of new antibiotics has not kept pace. This is in part what Britain’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Sally Davies’ report addresses. She highlights three issues requiring attention:

*the emergence of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites) that are resistant to antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs,

*healthcare-associated infections, which are a concern for all people accessing health services, and

*the social and environmental context in which infections occur

This is a very comprehensive report with many contributors. I am not a microbiologist and I haven’t read the whole 154 page report. I did, however, read the introductions to each of the 11 chapters and that formulates a comprehensive overview.

Superbugs can evolve resistance easily

Many superbugs can evolve resistance easily

I have also been reading some reports in the online newspapers about the effect on the food chain of the use of antibiotics in agriculture as well as the over prescription of antibiotics in human societies. It is only just starting to jolt me into understanding how we have been using and abusing the use of antibiotics. These two links lead to articles in The Scottish Farmer, both of which have to do with using antibiotics in herd management as a cheap insurance policy.

Louise Slaughter, the only microbiologist in the US Congress has tabled a Bill aimed at slowing down the spread of super bugs.

Agricultural use of antibiotics accounts for the majority of antibiotics sold in the United States. I am not sure about the UK or other countries. A problem arises when milk from a dairy cow being treated with antimicrobials is fed to calves. It is classed as unfit for human consumption. Farmers, loath to waste food, have fed the waste milk to calves. In this way, antimicrobial drugs enter the food chain. Davies considers the risk of transferring resistance from animals to humans to be minimal. This abstract in PubMed details a survey dealing with this.

Reducing the risk of herd disease needs to be placed far more on good farm management than on the easy option of throwing antibiotics at herds as an insurance policy. It is too fraught to keep doing it. Responsible  use of antibiotics in farm animals needs to be addressed. RUMA is an organisation comprising many different and concerned bodies and makes this point.

Of course, it all comes down to our over breeding and allied to that is the desire of everyone to attain a lifestyle that has food, health and shelter at its heart. The first world alternative; and why not? It will, however, only exacerbate the problem of disease resistance.

So I still see it all ending in tears. The biggest worry we have as a global species is our rampant reproduction. Religious dogma and natural reproductive imperatives hold sway. What an ignominious end for what could have been called a supersmart species able to control its base desires with better use of its frontal lobes. Ah well.

We have been able to reduce infant mortality and stave off early death. Two prongs to our dilemma. And still, no one in power will address it as an urgent – if not the most urgent – issue.


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