I have a confession to make. When my son was younger and had frequent ear infections, I asked my pediatrician for an antibiotic. Every time. It was like that line in Field of Dreams— “Ease his Pain” but it was also “Mommy needs Sleep”. Other times I requested antibiotics “to be on the safe side” if my son was showing signs of an unconfirmed infection. One time I heard another mom talk about the dangers of too much antibiotic exposure. It never occurred to me that too much of antibiotic could be a negative thing — especially when my son was his happy self again. The concern about too much exposure led me to believe our bodies could become resistant to antibiotic medications rendering them useless. I was wrong.
It’s not our bodies that become resistant, but the pathogen causing the infection that becomes resistant to the medication.
Now that I know the bacterial pathogen is the culprit, I understand the need to be sparing and thorough — finish off that course of treatment so resistant bacteria cannot develop. Got it.
But now for the bigger picture — what can be done about the antibiotics we do have as they become less effective in fighting everything from currently manageable to very serious infections? According to a recent study, 700,000 people die each year from infections caused by multidrug-resistant pathogens and parasites. Experts are now stating this could rise to 10 million by the year 2050. That’s more than the current cancer mortality rate. In an effort to address the rising burden, the CDC has produced a “Pathogens Watchlist” of drug-resistant threats to our proverbial medicine cabinet. Will it soon be empty?
Superbugs Aren't New, They're Just Super.
I wish superbugs were infections that went into a phone booth and changed into self-curing entities. Such is sadly not the case. But what’s “super“ about them is the additional potency they have to fight off the drugs trying to treat the infection. These infections, however, are not new. Complicated urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections and community-acquired bacterial pneumonia are just a handful of those found inside and outside the hospital setting that are treated with antibiotics. Hospital-setting infections serve as an even more welcome environment for superbugs as they have access to the patients whose immune systems are compromised and patients whose bodies have been exposed to open air via surgeries. This has intensive implications for those who opt for elective surgeries such as joint replacements or even caesarean sections. Surgery has always been a risk for infection or complications. Will we need to re-evaluate these risks?
Keeping an Eye on the Watchlist
There are several pharmaceutical companies conducting research to combat the multidrug-resistant pathogens designated as threats by the CDC, including our client, Wockhardt Discovery. While these companies invest in bringing their molecules to market, what can the rest of the healthcare industry do? Studies by the Wellcome Trust and The Pew Charitable Trust offer the following insights.
- Diagnostic Kit Development — Enabling physicians to determine quickly if an infection is bacterial and if an antibiotic is truly needed.
- Patient and Physician Education — Remember how I used to ask for antibiotics “to be on the safe side?” Course-correct patients and physicians about the real safe side.
- Hospital Hygiene Protocol — Patient safety takes many forms and ranges throughout the world. With pathogens like acinetobacter baumanii living up to 3 weeks on a hospital floor, vigilance over protocols such as hand washing is critical.
ARK Media is excited and proud to be part of this important conversation at this week’s ASM Microbe conference in Boston.