As ‘magical’ as antibiotics may appear, it does lose its effect if overused. As far back as 2014 the WHO (World Health Organization) blew the whistle on the threat of antibiotics losing its effect and the potential for fatal superbugs.1 It was in that same year that the WHO published the first ever report on antibiotic resistance.2 The report was a cause for concern by any estimation, especially considering how detailed and encompassing it proved to be. The World Health Organization collected data from 114 countries in addition to investing a substantial period of time into the report.
The WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Security is quoted as saying: “Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier, and benefit from modern medicine. Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating.”
The threat of antibiotic resistance, which has effectively become a reality in more recent times, has unfortunately failed to catch the attention of governments to the extent that it should. Nevertheless, the WHO has issued certain guidelines for patients and healthcare professionals alike to take into consideration so as to slow the growing trend.
Can we deal with antibiotic resistance?
According to WHO, ways to fight antibiotic resistance include:
- using antibiotics only when prescribed by a doctor;
- completing the full prescription, even if they feel better;
- never sharing antibiotics with others or using leftover prescriptions.
Health workers and pharmacists can help tackle resistance by:
- enhancing infection prevention and control;
- only prescribing and dispensing antibiotics when they are truly needed;
- prescribing and dispensing the right antibiotic(s) to treat the illness.
Policymakers can help tackle resistance by:
- strengthening resistance tracking and laboratory capacity;
- regulating and promoting appropriate use of medicines.
Policymakers and industry can help tackle resistance by:
- fostering innovation and research and development of new tools;
- promoting cooperation and information sharing among all stakeholders.
Contributing factors to antibiotic resistance of bacterial STIs
The great fear as it concerns antibiotic resistance is mainly two-fold. On the one hand it’s the natural mutation of bacteria due to the most fundamental principles of evolution. Bacteria evolves and begins to take different forms. On the other hand, the urge by many doctors to over-prescribe and not inform patients of the importance to avoid the misuse of antibiotic drugs is another issue. It’s almost a case of burning the candle on both ends. The overall benefits that antibiotics have brought to mankind over the last century can potentially be whittled away if steps aren’t taken to rectify.
With the issues concerning the misuse of antibiotics and the mutation of bacteria laid out clearly in the WHO report mentioned earlier, it’s no surprise that the prominence of certain life threatening infections have begun to consume public discourse. One such sexually transmitted infection which appears to have garnered a great deal of attention in the mainstream media is gonorrhoea. A particular strain of the bacteria has been named super gonorrhoea for how formidable its proven to be. There are numerous myths and rumours which have begun to spread concerning this particular mutation of the sexually transmitted infection. We’ll explore the truths and debunk the myths.
Super gonorrhoea…Does it exist??
Quite simply put, Yes. Although there is the tendency in the media to make more of an issue of what may otherwise be minute localised concerns – especially as it deals with health – (so as to ensure a greater number of clicks or newspaper sales), the fact of the matter concerning the threat of what has come to be known as ‘super gonorrhoea’ is that it does exist.
Antibiotic drugs, as noted above, if overused can lose it’s desired effect thus making it even more difficult to treat illnesses. In the past, infections like gonorrhoea, urinary tract infections, pneumonia etc. were relatively procedural with the correct dosage. Now, the fear is by many, scientists and healthcare professionals alike, that its effect can be lost and the benefits of this once revolutionary drug can be lost to human kind.
In the UK, the first form of the infection -super gonorrhea- was found earlier this year. As reported by the BBC3, a man who had a regular sexual partner in the UK made a visit to southeast Asia where he had a sexual encounter. It was there that he most possibly contracted the STI. A great deal was done to track down the man’s other (and) former partners within the UK in an attempt to curtail the spread of the infection.
Although reports are that in the end the man was finally cured (even after a cocktail of the strong antibiotic drugs of azithromycin and ceftriaxone which were unsuccessful- later on the use of ertapenem, a drug used to prevent infections post colon and rectal surgery proved successful), healthcare practitioners have been forced to take note of the fact that this infection may now pose the threat of spreading throughout the UK – especially considering that it’s existence has been confirmed in other parts of the world – including some developed countries.
Dr. Monica Balasegara director of the World Health Organization’s Global Antibiotic Research & Development Partnership notes, that there has been similar reports of the existence of a highly resistant variation of gonorrhoea in the recent past in developed countries like: France, Japan, and Spain.
How does bacteria change?
According to Dr Teodora Wi: “The bacteria that cause gonorrhoea are particularly smart. Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them.” Over time, due to the process of evolution the human body changes but so does the nature of illnesses, infections, and diseases. Developing new types of drugs to treat bacterial infections is fast becoming the new challenge of the 21st century.
Research shows that by 2050, if new antibiotics are not discovered, deaths caused by drug-resistant bacterial infections will surpass 10 million per year – an astounding number confirmed by even the most conservative estimates.
So where are we?
On the individual level, noting the advice given above is an important step to ensuring that one doesn’t develop a resistance to antibiotics over time. On the more macro-level, researchers and healthcare practitioners alike have their hands full with the task of making sure that they can develop new and innovative drugs which help to outpace the mutations of current infections.
The story of Sir Alexander Fleming is one that can certainly be repeated today. Innovation is an ever evolving process and although it may not happen in the exact similar fashion, consistent investment by governments and private enterprise, coupled with smart use of antibiotics by the individual can ensure a substantial degree of progress.