When antibiotics were first developed, they were a game changer. Common bacterial diseases that were at one time deadly could now be cured in a relatively safe and easy way. However, over time, humans began to develop a dependency on these wonder drugs—using them to relieve even the most minor of medical issues. While using them may be a beneficial strategy in the short-term, the long-term effects of antibiotic abuse could potentially lead to the rise of powerful diseases we have never seen before and cannot currently treat.
Here is a look at how humans have misused antibiotics and why this may spell big trouble for us in the future.
How are antibiotics being abused?
While antibiotics are still vital to treating certain bacterial infections, the CDC approximates that 30% to 50% of prescriptions are unnecessary or inappropriate. Even when antibiotic use is appropriate, the prescribed dose is still sometimes excessive.
Additionally, some antibiotics are given without proper testing. For example, one in three patients given a prescription for urinary tract infections were not tested beforehand, which means there could be a potential error in the diagnosis and recommended treatment plan.
What problems do antibiotics cause?
CDI (also known as C. Difficile) is an infection that can actually be caused by antibiotic use. It is a serious condition that can lead to recurrent diarrhea and even sepsis or death, and it occurs because antibiotics can throw off the natural balance of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract.
The CDC predicts that if antibiotic use was decreased by at least 30%, there would be a 26% percent in CDI, which would affect more than 65,000 people as a result.
What will happen in the future?
If antibiotics continue to be overused, there will be a significant rise in diseases that do not respond to medical treatment at all. There are already thousands of people dying each year as a result of such diseases, and that number will only grow.
Not only will antibiotic-resistant bacteria (sometimes called "superbugs") be harder to treat, but they will also be fitter in general. This means that they will survive better in the host and have the potential to cause even more deadly infections. Although this outcome of antibiotic resistance may be inevitable at this point, it can be slowed if the crisis is handled in the right way.
What can you do?
Next time you are sick, talk with your doctor about other options before you accept an antibiotic prescription. Unless it is absolutely necessary, try letting your immune system perform its natural duties by fighting off the infection without antibiotics.