When penicillin, the first antibiotic, was widely introduced to the world in the 1940s it was regarded as something of a miracle. Suddenly there was a way to treat many common infections that frequently lead to death. Unfortunately, there were some unforeseeable consequences to the subsequent proliferation of antibiotics.

The Cure

Antibiotics like penicillin revolutionized the treatment of strep throat, a common ailment caused by the bacteria streptococcus pyogenes. Strep throat itself isn’t necessarily life threatening. However, the bacteria that causes strep throat can spread to other parts of the body if not treated.

In the past, strep throat infections frequently lead to scarlet fever and it could lead to the even more dangerous condition known as rheumatic fever. Scarlet fever can impair the functioning of the heart, kidneys, and other areas of the body. Rheumatic fever can result in permanent damage to the heart.

It is easy to see how vitally important an effective treatment for the early infection of strep throat is. With a service like PlushCare, strep throat treatment includes the use of antibiotics once the bacterial infection has been diagnosed. When properly treated with effective antibiotics, strep throat rarely develops into one of the more serious conditions. This is why scarlet fever and rheumatic fever are virtually unheard of in the United States and other developed countries when only a few generations ago they were considered life threatening illnesses.

The Problem

The major problem with the use of antibiotics is the growing prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria. It is considered one of the most significant threats to global food security, health, and development by the World Health Organization (WHO). Once a bacteria becomes resistant to a class of antibiotics that bacteria will be more difficult to treat regardless of the age, ethnicity, or country of origin of the patient.

Many of the most devastating infections caused by bacteria are becoming more difficult to treat as the antibiotics which were once considered modern miracles become increasingly less effective. Some of the diseases that have already become significantly more difficult to treat include tuberculosis, pneumonia, and gonorrhea.

Complicating the problem further is the lack of innovation from pharmaceutical companies in the development of new classes of antibiotics. Because those antibiotics which are already on the market have been historically successful and the profit margins for developing new antibiotics is slim, many companies choose to focus their research and development funds on other projects.

The Solution

The solution to the problem of antibiotic resistance is both simple and terribly complex – use antibiotics less and create more types.

While it is possible for bacteria to naturally develop a resistance to specific antibiotics, the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in human and animal populations are rapidly accelerating the resistance process. Specifically, the use of antibiotics in prophylactic treatments in livestock and the tendency of physicians to over prescribe antibiotics for viral conditions must be curbed.

The agriculture sector must push to limit the use of antibiotics on animals to those animals who are being treated under veterinary supervision for an infection. It is essential that measures be taken to prevent the use of these antibiotics simply to promote growth or prevent diseases that are likely to develop due to poor living conditions for the animals.

Health professionals must become more diligent in basic healthcare protocols and encourage their patients through active education to do the same. This includes ensuring hands, instruments, and the home, office, and hospital environments are clean. Antibiotics must be limited for infections for which they can be effective and not simply because of patient demand.

Finally, patients have a responsibility to use the antibiotics they are prescribed in the precise manner in which they have been instructed. Ceasing a course of antibiotics early can lead to the bacteria becoming resistant to the medication and further destabilize the ability of the healthcare system to combat life-threatening illnesses caused by the bacteria.

Antibiotics are an essential component of the dramatic advancements in healthcare and the prolonged life expectancy rates that have occurred over the last 100 years. If we are not careful, we could see those gains reversed and have future generations with less health security than their parents.