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The rising threat of antibiotic resistance

Understanding the problem and solutions

An overview and history of antibiotics


Antibiotics are medicines that treat and prevent bacterial infections (such as skin infections, respiratory infections and more). Antibiotic resistance is the process of infection-causing bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics. As the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated, antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development.


In 1910, Paul Ehrlich discovered the first antibiotic, Salvarsan, used to treat syphilis at the time. His idea was to create anti-infective medication, and Salvarsan was successful.


The golden age of antibiotic discovery began with the accidental discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928. He noticed that mould had contaminated one of the petri dishes of Staphylococcus bacteria. He observed that bacteria around the mould were dying and realised that the mould, Penicillium notatum, was causing the bacteria to die.


In 1940, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain isolated penicillin and began clinical trials, showing that it effectively treated infectious animals. Penicillin was then used to treat patients by 1943 in the United States.


Overall, the discovery and use of antibiotics in the 21st century was a significant scientific discovery, extending people’s lives by around 20 years.


Factors contributing to antibiotic resistance


Increasing levels of antibiotic resistance could mean routine surgeries and cancer treatments (which can weaken the body’s ability to respond to infections) might become too risky, and minor illnesses and injuries could become more challenging to treat.


There are various factors contributing to this, including overusing and misusing antibiotics and low investment in new antibiotic research.


Antibiotics are overused and misused due to misunderstanding when and how to use them. As a result, antibiotics may be used for viral infections, and an entire course may not be completed if patients start to feel better. Some patients may also use antibiotics not prescribed to them, such as those of family and friends.


Moreover, there has not been enough investment to fund the research of novel antibiotics. This has resulted in a shortage of antibiotics available to treat infections that have become resistant. Therefore, more investment and research are needed to prevent antibiotic resistance from becoming a public health crisis.


Combatting antibiotic resistance


One of the most effective ways to combat antibiotic resistance is through raising public awareness. Children and adults can learn about when and how to use antibiotics safely.


Several resources are available to help individuals and members of the public to do this. Some resources are linked below:


1.   The WHO has provided a factsheet with essential information on antibiotic resistance.


2.   The Antibiotic Guardian website is a platform with information and resources to help combat antibiotic resistance. It is a UK-wide campaign to improve and reduce antibiotic prescribing and use. Visit the website to learn more, and commit to a pledge to play your part in helping to solve this problem.


3.   Public Health England has created resources too support Antibiotic Guardian.


4.   The E-bug peer-education package is a platform that aims to educate individuals and provide them with tools to educate others.



Written by Naoshin Haque

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