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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Guest opinion: Antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Announcements about breakthroughs in medicine are always on the news nowadays. Pharmaceutical companies have found new ways to tackle cancer, diabetes and quite a hefty list of other chronic conditions that plague humanity. However, we are facing a growing problem that has slowly become increasingly neglected decade after decade. With huge incentives for pharmaceutical companies to deliver products that need to be taken for extended periods of time, if not always, as well as cost a premium, there is a dwindling interest in the research of new antibiotics.

Antibiotics are no longer a lucrative pursuit for most pharmaceutical companies for several reasons: they are prescribed for very short periods of time, doctors have become much more frugal in prescribing them in order to prevent the cultivation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and they become obsolete once resistance develops. The money that drug companies could make on a new antibiotic is only a fraction of a fraction of what they could make on a new drug that prevents heart disease or increases longevity.

The present issue is that antibiotic-resistant bacteria cases grow larger and more dangerous with every passing year. New strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are found worldwide every year. An enzyme that makes bacteria resistant called New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1(NDM-1), first found in 2008, has caused worldwide concern. A better known resistant bacteria called Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is also a dominant issue today. In 2005, the CDC reported that MRSA was responsible for 19,000 deaths in the United States alone, killing more than AIDS does. The latest grave issue is a completely resistant form of tuberculosis. Gonorrhea, a previously easily treated infection since WWII, has now become almost totally drug resistant. These infections, which all could have been easily cured a few decades ago with a simple course of antibiotics, are now proving to be incredibly lethal. Such epidemics should not exist in the 21st century.

Extensive misuse of antibiotics over the past 60 years, as well as the growing use of antibiotic and other anti-microbial chemicals in our food and environment, have played a big role in cultivating these lethal strains. While doctors have grown more prudent with prescribing antibiotics to patients, this alone will not fix the problem when the chicken we eat and the cows that give us milk are given antibiotics regularly in order to maximize commercial yield by preventing illness. The FDA has already begun cracking down on the use of antibiotics in livestock this year, but more still needs to be done. While all this will decrease the likelihood that new strains will emerge, it will not do anything about the ones currently present.

It is necessary for an aggressive approach to be taken against new bacterial strains by funneling more energy and money into researching new and novel antibiotics. Government-funded research, as well as financial incentives, needs to be presented to pharmaceutical companies in order to counter the decline of effective treatment against bacterial infections. Unnecessary deaths are occurring when infections that could be easily cured with new antibiotics are given carte blanche.

This is not to say that the work that pharmaceutical companies are doing today is meaningless. The discoveries and progress they are making against diseases like cancer, AIDS and cardiovascular diseases are astounding. However, they have neglected the crucial importance of fighting bacterial infections. This has created an unnecessary, everyday danger to all individuals in society.  Hopefully, change will be made soon.

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