Every year, at least 700,000 people die from drug-resistant infections, the World Health Organization (WHO) has described antibiotic resistance as one of the biggest global threats of the 21st century.
But in this case, what is being done to try to avoid what might be called the “apocalypse of antibiotics”? Firstly, there is an attempt to reduce the use of this type of medication, since the more antibiotics the human being takes, the more resistant the bacteria are.
The psychologist, Dr. Jason Doctor of the University of Southern California, has been developing experiments to see if it is possible to get doctors to prescribe fewer drugs. The psychologist has convinced more than 200 physicians to sign a letter to their patients, making a commitment to be more strict about prescribing antibiotics. These letters were transformed into posters and were glued to the walls of their offices.
These experiments also led to the adoption of a classification system, the doctors received an e-mail monthly, with information on how many antibiotics they were prescribing inappropriately compared to their colleagues. Warnings were still made on doctors’ computers, prompting them to question whether they really needed to prescribe these antibiotics, and also to show them how they could handle the more insistent patients who required doctors to do this type of medication.
When all these approaches have been combined, the number of antibiotic prescriptions has been drastically reduced, some of these changes are being implemented in the United States and in other countries. But even if patients use some antibiotics, even when they are needed, that would not solve the problem. Humans are a great market for antibiotics, but there is an even bigger one.
In the year 1950, it was discovered that antibiotics made the animals grow faster. Since then, breeders around the world have injected these drugs into their animals even after scientific studies have proven that bacterial resistance could shift from animals to humans who consumed them. There was, however, one country that showed that it is possible to reverse this scenario.
The Netherlands. Which has more animals per square meter than any other country on planet Earth, and for years, these animals were according to an established routine, fed with antibiotics. The ban on administering antibiotics as animal growth promoters had little effect, since farmers used the same amount and only labeled them differently.
However, after a number of health damage, the government decided to reprimand animal keepers, and in 2009 they were warned that they would have to reduce their antibiotics by about 20%. Over a period of two years, and within 50%, within five years, as a limit. Veterinarian Dr. Dik Mevius, an infectious disease specialist, helped animal breeders develop a plan to achieve these goals.
They created a database, revealing the names of the breeder who most violated the rule, and prevented other breeders from buying antibiotics from different veterinarians. If a veterinarian or breeder prescribes or uses an antibiotic unnecessarily, was fined or lost the license to raise animals. Thus, the Dutch breeders were forced to respect the rules, and stopped using so many antibiotics. For many of them, this meant changing the way they raised their animals.
“It was really a revolution”, Dr. Mevius said. “We have reduced by 60% the number of antibiotics used in just a few years,” she added. Most countries are, however, moving in the opposite direction. Countries such as China, Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa are expected to double their use of antibiotics by 2030, which will lead to resistance spreading. That’s why scientists from around the world are looking at oceans, rainforests and deserts, new sources of antibiotics, more natural, healthier.
Recently, some researchers went to Panama and collected skin samples from a three-toed sloth. Other scientists have been looking for new antibiotics in Komodo dragon saliva. But it is still too early to say that these experiences will be successful.
There are also those who are not looking for new antibiotics but are fighting against bacteria. Microbiologist Dr. Kim Hardie of the University of Nottingham in England studies how bacteria communicate. Yes, bacteria communicate between them.
When a single bacterium reaches our lungs, it “hides” from our immune system and the antibodies that can kill it. It does not reveal its weapons – its toxins – but it stays there, waiting for an opportunity.
“Once the bacterium realizes that it is a good place to multiply, then it communicates,” the scientist explained. Isolated bacteria relate to one another until they feel they are in sufficient numbers. Then they arm and attack the immune system”. “If you only have one soldier on a castle, you will not threaten the castle,” said Dr. Hardie.
“But if you wait for the rest of the army to arrive and show off your weapons at the same time, the soldiers can beat the castle”.
What if you can stop the bacteria from communicating, so that even though they have harmful bacteria in their lungs, they cannot relate to each other and can thus launch an attack?
Dr. Hardie states that this can be done and reveals some laboratory experiments that have yielded good results. The scientist estimates that an antibiotic based on this principle could reach the market in about ten years. There are many other experiences and projects in progress. Success will depend, in large part, on learning more about bacteria. As Sun Tzu’s book “The Art of War” teaches, one must know the enemy to win the battle. How can we avoid the apocalypse of antibiotics? Learning how to cheat bacteria.