Some researchers argue that we now live in the post-antibiotic era where small injuries and infections can be lethal. Antibiotics, one of the greatest achievements in therapeutic medicine, has been and continues to be misused.
It’s unavoidable that bacterias become resistant to antibiotics, but this process is speeded up by antibiotic overuse both among humans, animals and in our environment. In his Nobel lecture in 1945, Sir Alexander Fleming, spoke about the importance to handle antibiotics with care. He said:
The time may come when penicillin can be bought by anyone in the shops. Then there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.
His predictions came true. It is today possible to buy antibiotics over the counter in some parts of the world.
Antibiotic resistance is already happening. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhea, blood poisoning, salmonellosis and foodborne diseases are becoming harder to treat due to resistant bacterias. Surgical procedures and chemotherapy are also threatened by antibiotic resistance. In a study conducted by the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015 estimated that 33000 people die each year from infection because bacterias are resistant to antibiotics in the European Union and in the European Economic Area (EU/EEA). Most vulnerable to antibiotic resistance are infants under the age of one year and people aged 65 years or older.
Antibiotic-resistant bacterias can spread via humans, animals as well as in our food and environment. Bacterias does not stay within borders. Antibiotic resistance is, therefore, a truly global problem. Antibiotic resistance is, according to the World Health Organization, one of the ten biggest threats to global health in 2019. To tackle antibiotic resistance, global efforts are needed. However, we as individuals can also help to slow down antibiotic resistance.
What can we do to stay healthy?
Since we no longer can rely on antibiotics, it becomes much more important to stay healthy. So, how do we prevent contracting diseases and help to slow down antibiotic resistance? Some precautions we can use are frequent handwashing. We should also avoid being around sick people, especially in times of flu seasons, and limit our stay in crowded indoor places. In general, we should strive to lead a healthy lifestyle with physical activity and a good diet.
Another preventative measure we can use is vaccinations.
Vaccines provide protection towards diseases. Vaccines help to slow down antibiotic resistance as there is no need for antibiotics when no disease is contracted. However, the problem with vaccines is that they have been so efficient in defeating infectious diseases that people forget how it used to be before vaccines were available. According to the WHO’s preliminary global data, reported cases of the vaccine-preventable disease measles increased with 300% in the first three months of 2019 compared to last year. Vaccine hesitancy was listed as one of the ten biggest threats to global health along with antibiotic resistance. Vaccination resistance is not a new phenomenon, in fact, it has been around since the very first introduction of vaccines. Social media and it’s “flat” structure, making it possible for almost anyone to portray themselves as an expert on health and vaccines might have made it easier to spread misinformation about vaccines.
What can we do about vaccine hesitancy?
Amongst other things, to achieve and maintain a sufficient immunization coverage we need to make sure that everyone has access to evidence-based information about vaccines. Worry is contagious. Spending as little as 5–10 minutes on a vaccine critical website was found to significantly reduce willingness to accept vaccines. Therefore, it’s important to limit the spread of false information on social media. Many social media platforms have already implemented new tools to stop the spread of misinformation about vaccines. A good practice is to always check if the content is evidence-based, before sharing a post on social media.
In a world where we no longer can be sure that antibiotics will cure our infectious diseases, staying healthy and getting vaccinated is becoming increasingly important.