Meant to save your life, now overuse of antibiotics may endanger it: study

Penicillin antibiotic. Doug Nicholson/Media Services, Sunnybrook

Imagine you get a serious infection or life-threatening illness and the antibiotics prescribed to save your life don’t work. According to a new study, there are now “alarming rates of bacteria resistant to last-resort antibiotics.”

In The State of the World’s Antibiotics, 2015, released by the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP) the authors outlined antibiotic overuse and the spread of resistance.

“A rampant rise in antibiotic use poses a major threat to public health, especially when there’s no oversight on appropriate prescribing,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of CDDEP. “Antibiotic use drives antibiotic resistance.”

The study provides a global mapping tool that shows resistance trends around the globe.

“Instead of being the default treatment for a host of mild ailments — particularly coughs, colds, and uncomplicated diarrhea — antibiotics must be considered life-saving medicines to be used when needed,” the CDDEP report states.

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In India, for example, a superbug found in hospitals is now 57 per cent resistant to one kind of antibiotics considered “last-resort.” Strains of E.coli in India are now 80 per cent resistant to three different classifications of drugs, according to the study.

“If these trends continue, infections that could once be treated in a week or two could become routinely life threatening and endanger millions of lives,” said author Dr. Sumanth Gandra.

The study authors warn it’s not just over-prescribing but also antibiotic use in agriculture that is problematic.

READ MORE: Your Food: Antibiotic use in Canada and its implications for human health

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Dr. Andrew Simor, chief of microbiology and infectious diseases for Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, said many studies in North America have shown we need to make a change.

“Inappropriate use of antibiotics, that is prescriptions for an antibiotic when there is no good reason to use it, occurs in anywhere between 20 and 40 per cent of all antibiotic prescriptions,” Simor told Global News, “that is a huge amount of inappropriate or misuse of antibiotics.”

“Among the more common reason for an inappropriate antibiotic prescription is a for a viral infection. Viruses cannot be treated with an antibiotic,” said Simor.

As we head into flu season, an important reminder: influenza is a virus.

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Simor adds that patients and physicians need to work together to understand the effective use of antibiotics and the risks of misuse, including side effects and development of antibiotic resistance.

“The danger is ever-increasing in that there are more and more germs, bacteria that are becoming resistant to more and more antibiotics, and that creates infections where there are fewer and fewer options available to treat these infections,” said Simor. “Particularity if they become serious, life-threatening infections and ultimately running the risk of having organisms so resistant that there are no antibiotics available to treat these infections. ”

The CDDEP authors recommend six strategies to reduce antibiotic resistance.

In Canada, monitoring antibiotics through stewardship programs have been established in hospitals. Sunnybrook led the way, and its award-winning program has resulted in a significant reduction in antibiotic use. Simor hopes these types of programs will be expanded to long-term care homes.

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Simor said change is needed now, and the study authors agree.

“Our research shows that antibiotic resistance and misuse is a dire — and growing — problem in every country on earth,” said Laxminarayan. “The good news is that every country can work on solving it.”

WATCH BELOW: Ramanan Laxminarayan’s TedTalk on “the coming crisis in antibiotics”

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