Antibiotics are now failing to work because they have been overused for people and farmed animals. This is a danger to us because antibiotic-resistant bacteria can quickly spread between people. This can result in new strains of infectious disease that are more difficult (potentially impossible) to cure and more expensive to treat.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when an antibiotic can no longer control or stop bacterial growth. This leads to bacteria becoming resistant and multiplying despite the presence of therapeutic levels of an antibiotic. When bacteria become resistant to most antibiotics they are referred to as ‘superbugs’.
Drug resistance is already here. Resistant infections are already on the rise with up to 50,000 lives lost each year to antibiotic-resistant infections in Europe and the United States alone. Worldwide that figure rises to 700,000 each year as people die of drug resistance (not just to antibiotics but to several types of drugs that have been over used) in illnesses such as bacterial infections, malaria, HIV/Aids or tuberculosis. If nothing is done, it is predicted that many millions will die each year – especially in poorer countries. The UK government warned in April 2016 that 10 million people a year could die from antibiotic resistance by 2050, saying: “Antimicrobial resistance to antibiotics will present a greater danger to humankind than cancer by the middle of the century unless world leaders agree international action to tackle the threat.”
Leading scientists are now warning that we are in danger of entering a ‘post antibiotic’ age, which may make many routine surgical operations dangerous and could cut life expectancy. The Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, stated in 2012: "Antibiotics are losing their effectiveness at a rate that is both alarming and irreversible - similar to global warming." And the Director of Health at the United Nations Development Programme, Mandeep Dhaliwal, warned of a return to the era before Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin. “We are on the road back to the days of people dying from common infections and injuries.”
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