A few of the major issues in attempting to combat bacteria is how quickly they adapt, evolve relative to large organisms, and develop antibiotic resistance.
Bacteria are able to replicate on a much greater magnitude than macro-organisms — E. Coli only takes 23 minutes to replicate — and they can adapt functional changes in a very short period of time.
For example, scientists at Harvard Medical School conducted an experiment where they grew E. Coli bacteria in a petri dish that consisted of increasingly strong concentrations of antibiotics. After eleven days, E. Coli strains emerged that could resist antibiotic concentrations that were a thousand times greater than the amount necessary to initially kill them.
As antibiotics have become more prevalent over the past century, bacteria have been evolving at a rate faster than we can keep up with. About 700,000 people are estimated to have died of infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria last year.
If people do not take action against this problem, by the year 2050 we could have 10 million deaths a year due to resistant strains, meaning that resistant bacteria would be taking more lives than cancer.
A U.N. meeting was called on September 14 to discuss this issue. One factor contributing to the rise of resistant strains is the overuse of antibiotics in humans. Antibiotics tend to be overprescribed or simply used when they are not needed.
It is estimated that less than half the antibiotics people take are actually necessary. Unnecessarily using antibiotics contributes to the rise of resistant bacteria without achieving anything beneficial.
The overuse of antibiotics is seen even more often in the treatment of animals. According to the Huffington Post, over two-thirds of antibiotics used in the U.S. is used to treat livestock. Unnecessary antibiotic use in agriculture leads to resistant bacteria strains in humans as well.
Fortunately, action has been and will continue to be taken to reduce the rise of strains of bacteria that show antibiotic resistance. For example, the development of fish vaccines meant that antibiotics no longer had to be used in Norwegian salmon farming. Over the past six years, the Netherlands has reduced their animal antibiotic use by 56 percent.
Additionally, avoiding infection initially will reduce the need for antibiotics. Hospitals could make it a policy to discharge babies sooner before they have time to be exposed to potentially infectious diseases.
Educating mothers on the important role of breastfeeding in building up babies’ immune systems could also contribute to preventing the onset of infection.
According to the World Health Organization, even those of us living among the general populace can take action on this issue. We can practice better hygiene to prevent infections.
We should also be careful not to use antibiotics unless specifically prescribed by health professionals and make sure that we take the full course of antibiotics once they are prescribed to us.
– Edmond Kim