A new report published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal warns that “we are at the dawn of a post-antibiotic era,” with “almost all disease-causing bacteria resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat them.”1 The gravity of the problem was summed up in a commentary on the report: “Rarely has modern medicine faced such a grave threat. Without antibiotics, treatments from minor surgery to major transplants could become impossible,” and “infection-related mortality rates in developed countries might return to those of the early 20th century.2 The report describes the global situation of antibiotic resistance, its major causes and consequences (which affect “everybody in the world”), and identifies key areas in which action is urgently needed.
The report states that the global burden of resistance is probably concentrated in three major categories: longer duration of illness and higher death rates in patients with resistant infections, increasing costs of treatment for resistant infections, and inability to perform procedures (i.e. surgeries) that rely on antibiotics to prevent infection. Sadly, this message is not new. In fact, back in 1945 Sir Alexander Fleming warned of the danger of antibiotic resistance resulting from overuse of antibiotics. Yet here we are almost 70 years later, still largely ignoring age-old advice.
The report calls for national commitment, on a global scale, to the implementation of successful strategies for “getting out of the impasse.” They call for rational use of antibiotics in hospitals and in the community. They call for education and changing social norms. (The attitude, “But I always take/prescribe antibiotics for a cough/sore throat/cold/urinary tract infection/acne/etc.” must change if we are to reverse the impasse.) They call for an increased role of better diagnostics, a reduction of the inappropriate use of antibiotics in agriculture, and for new antibiotics and alternative strategies to treat existing and future antibiotic-resistant infections.
“The future of antibiotics and survival of every human being that acquires a bacterial infection will depend on the serious commitment of many stakeholders, including government authorities, policy makers, health-care workers, university teachers, pharmaceutical companies, and consumers,” they warn.
The judicious use of antibiotics is crucial not only at the global population level, but also at the individual level. If you take antibiotics frequently, your bacteria gradually become more resistant to those antibiotics and one day you find that the antibiotic that always worked suddenly does not. Then you have to take a broad-spectrum antibiotic, which targets a broad range of bacteria. But the more you take broad spectrum antibiotics, the more likely a broad range of your bacteria are to become resistant. Do you see the vicious cycle here?
According to the CDC, “nearly 2 million people in the United States acquire an infection while in a hospital, resulting in 90,000 deaths. More than 70 percent of the bacteria that cause these infections are resistant to at least one of the antibiotics commonly used to treat them.”3
Certainly, if you are treating an infection that cannot be addressed by any other means, then antibiotics are necessary. But there are many conditions for which antibiotics should not be used, yet their use continues. Brenda and I have written many times about the inappropriate use of antibiotics and the threat of antibiotic resistance. See those articles for more information.
The opposite of danger, some say, is opportunity. I think it is high time that the medical science and the medical profession look at nutritional and lifestyle factors that predispose to infection and cause prolonged illness and/or death.
A real preventative health care program would include the following: prebiotics, probiotics, and cultured beverages/foods, a plant-based diet, optimum amounts of omega-3 oils and fish, vitamin D3, vitamin C (oral and intravenous), zinc, selenium, magnesium, and multiple mushrooms (from supplements and/or food) to name a few.
If you are under your physician’s care and you are doing all of the above, it is possible that you may be able to shorten your antibiotic course from 10 days to 3 to 5 days, which may help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea as well as further resistance to antibiotics. If you do this and your symptoms return, immediately recontact your physician.
All of the above have been shown to balance immunity and prevent, treat, and survive many microbial infections, be they bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic. There is testing that can assure that the levels of most of these nutrients are in the high normal range and would confer protection, as well as be therapeutic. It would be interesting to see how nutrient deficient are the 23,000 people who die annually from an infection that has high antibiotic resistance.
So we are now basically being forced back to the natural order of things in which bacteria fight bacteria. With healthy, flexible immune balance most people will likely survive serious infections with appropriate lifestyle, diet, supplements, stress reduction, exercise, sleep, and good elimination.
- Laxminarayan R, Duse A, Wattal C, et al., “Antibiotic resistance—the need for global solutions.” Lancet Infect Dis. 2013;13(12):1057–98.
- Howard SJ, Catchpole M, Watson J, et al., “Antibiotic resistance: global response needed.” Lancet Infect Dis. 2013;12(13):1001–3.