ANOTHER EPIC DISASTER may soon be coming up. Health officials warn of a hidden pandemic of antibiotic-resistant infections if people fail to act responsibly after Covid-19. Taking antibiotics when you do not need them only puts you at more risk.

Antibiotics should be taken or prescribed only, for example, to treat bacterial infections such as sepsis, meningitis or pneumonia. They can also help protect against infection during chemotherapy, caesarean sections and other common surgeries. But they are sometimes prescribed to treat coughs, earache and sore throats, on which they have little or no effect.

The overuse of antibiotics in recent years for trivial diseases means they are becoming less effective against serious infections. People are dying from common, previously treatable diseases because the bacteria that cause them have become resistant to treatment.

During the pandemic, changes in people’s behavior, less social mixing, better hand hygiene and more remote consultations are thought to have been factors. But the proportion of antibiotic-resistant infections grew over the same period, prompting warnings of further increases to come.

Prescriptions for antibiotics have been falling for years. But there was an increase in antibiotics prescribed by dentists, for the first time in many years, thought to be a result of many people being unable to come to face-to-face appointments.

Changes in treatments, in how people accessed healthcare and reductions in lab-testing capacity during the pandemic are all likely to have had an impact. And if the bacteria causing their infection no longer respond to treatment with the use of common medicines, this can cause serious complications and lead to hospital admission.

More than 1.2 million people died worldwide in 2019 from infections caused by bacteria resistant to antibiotics, according to the study of the issue to date. This is more than the annual death toll from malaria.

They calculate up to five million people died in 2019 from illnesses in which AMR (antimicrobial resistance) played a role – on top of the 1.2 million deaths it caused directly.    

Most of the deaths from AMR were caused by lower respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, and bloodstream infections, which can lead to sepsis. 

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) was particularly deadly, while Eschericia coli, and several other bacteria, were also linked to high levels of drug resistance.

Experts believe that the scale of antimicrobial resistance worldwide is a clear signal for immediate action if we want to stay ahead in the race against antimicrobial resistance. Others say better tracking of resistance levels in different countries and regions is essential. Spending needs to be directed to preventing infections in the first place, making sure existing antibiotics are used appropriately and judiciously. By Manny Palomar, PhD (EV Mail March 27-April 2, 2023 issue)