Modern advances in medicine have given rise to numerous types of antibiotics that have been integrated into nearly every aspect of society in developed countries. Whether it be antibiotics in foods like meats, fruits, and vegetables, or the type prescribed by physicians to treat bacterial infections, these once pivotal compounds are now contributing to a series of issues that are catalyzing the rate at which antibiotic resistance in a population of bacteria accumulates. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), every year over 48,000 individuals in the United States die from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This alarming number only scratches the surface of what is sure to be a growing issue in the next several decades as the over-prescription and use of antibiotics continues to grow. The overuse of antibiotics is not isolated to developed countries, but is rather a global issue that, if not addressed, can and most likely will be the cause of the next global pandemic.
Antibiotics have been in use since 1910 when Salvarsan, the first antibiotic, was introduced. Now, over a century later, the number of antibiotics in circulation has increased tenfold. While the introduction of antibiotics in the early 20th century helped to alleviate the number of deaths from infections and disease, their use over the next 100 years has seen the creation of several dozen antibiotic resistant bacteria. On a surface level, antibiotics are beneficial if they are prescribed and taken appropriately, but according to a study done by the CDC, 30% of antibiotic prescriptions made in a year are unnecessary and in some cases have no benefit whatsoever in treating an illness. Currently, the CDC is working to help mitigate the over-prescription of antibiotics to a safer level, but over-prescription is not the only factor at play when an individual takes antibiotics.
Antibiotics work by targeting key metabolic functions within a bacterium and interrupting/preventing them from occurring. This in turn prevents the bacteria from being able to survive, and eventually it dies. However, because bacteria undergo rapid division and can produce several generations in a single day, mutations can occur that protect them from the effects of an antibiotic treatment. The resistance is then passed on to other bacteria via horizontal gene transfer, granting resistance to an entire population of bacteria given enough time. An example of this resistance is seen plainly with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The death rate associated with antibiotic resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus is 36%; however, it is important to note confounding factors such as age, lifestyle, etc. when observing this percentage. MRSA is not the only type of antibiotic resistant bacteria in circulation: more than 2.8 million cases of antibiotic-resistant illnesses occur each year, according to a study done by the CDC.
Another key factor influencing the rate at which antibiotic resistance is spread is the misuse of antibiotics by those prescribed them. This topic will be covered more extensively in a future article. This article is the first in a series of articles detailing the effects of the overuse of antibiotics. Future articles in this series will cover topics such as the misuse of antibiotics by those prescribed, how the rate at which antibiotics are developed insufficiently matches the rate at which they are needed, and how antibiotics interact with the microbiome, leading to chronic health issues.
CDC. Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2019. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CDC; 2019.
CDC. (2016, January 1). CDC: 1 in 3 antibiotic prescriptions unnecessary. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0503-unnecessary-prescriptions.html
CDC. (2019, February 5). MRSA. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/mrsa/index.html
CDC. (2021, December 13). National estimates for antibiotic resistance. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/national-estimates.html
CDC. (2021, November 23). 2019 antibiotic resistance threats report. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/biggest-threats.html
CDC. (2021, October 6). Antibiotic use questions and answers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/q-a.html
Pease, B. J. (2021, March 29). UF study: Silent Mrsa carriers have twice the mortality rate of adults without the bacteria. UF Health, University of Florida Health. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from https://ufhealth.org/news/2021/uf-study-silent-mrsa-carriers-have-twice-mortality-rate-adults-without-bacteria