- Antibiotics do not work as well as they used to
- So what is antibiotic resistance?
- How do bacteria become resistant to antibiotics?
- What factors lead to antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotics do not work as well as they used to
Antibiotics have transformed our ability to treat bacterial infections allowing us to live healthier, longer lives. But antibiotic overuse makes bacteria evolve so they can survive the effects of antibiotics. This is known as ‘antibiotic resistance’.
By 2050, 10 million people per year could die as a result of bacterial infections that cannot be treated with antibiotics. If we do nothing now we could face a future where the antibiotics that we take for granted today no longer work. It will become harder to treat common infections, and procedures that rely on antibiotics, like chemotherapy or even hip-replacements will become risky.
The year 2050 seems a long way off, but drug-resistant infections are affecting people now. It’s been estimated, for instance, that antibiotic resistance affected around 53 000 people in the UK in 2015, of which more than 2000 died.
These numbers can hide the fact that antibiotic resistance affects all sorts of people at a personal level. The vast majority of these people don’t die, but they may be sick for longer, need longer treatments or have more side-effects. You can read about how antibiotic resistance is affecting some of those people here.
So what is antibiotic resistance?
You’ll often see headlines about antibiotic resistance in the press. Most people will say that they know what antibiotic resistance is, but they often don’t get it right – it’s a slippery concept. Have a go at testing your understanding below:
Antibiotic resistance, then, is not the process whereby your body becomes tolerant to, gets used to or immune to antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance refers to the process whereby bacteria become resistant to the antibiotics that we use to treat and prevent infections is they are no longer killed or prevented from reproducing by the antibiotics.
How do bacteria become resistant to antibiotics?
Your body is teeming with bacteria. Your gut, for instance, contains around 100 trillion bacteria. Most of these bacteria are harmless and may even be necessary for good health. There will be some bacteria as well that can cause disease but your body usually keeps these in check. Antibiotics can upset the balance between “good” and “harmful” bacteria. Problems occur when bacteria get into parts of the body where they are not supposed to be found, like the bladder or the bloodstream
What factors lead to antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotics are not only used in humans. They are also used in pets and farm animals, in fish, in agriculture and in food production. This means that the way antibiotic resistance occurs is complicated involving humans, animals and the environment. But, as you might expect, one of the main reasons for the development of antibiotic resistance is the amount of antibiotics used. The greater the quantity of antibiotic used the, greater the likelihood of antibiotic resistance.
This is why the PASS project focuses on improving antibiotic prescribing, and reducing the number of people who get treated with antibiotics when they do not need them.