Having just finished a course of antibiotics prescribed by the dentist for something nasty in the mouth the current story about the impending apocalypse that could occur if “something isn’t done” about antibiotic resistance was of interest.
Because I remember a time before antibiotics and recall those who died too soon, others with damaged lives and many who suffered from a wide variety of causes and infections the thought that this form of medication might soon be either no longer available or effective is frightening.
This time round the blame seems to lie squarely with humanity rather than any geophysical, extra terrestrial or metaphysical cause. The difficulty is what kind of blame, where, on whom and what can be done about it.
As ever, it is very complicated with several strands of argument and not easy to be absolute. The trouble is that we humans are wedded to a model of single effect from a single cause with single action needed to put things right.
One case is that because it has always been understood by scientists that the battle against infections is part of a never ending war of attrition then substantial research, investment and effective action need to be continuing. If ground is conceded to the bugs they soon might gain the upper hand.
However, the structure and organisation of the relevant pharmaceuticals industries of the world have changed down the decades. It is argued that we have fewer big companies with more complicated organisations operating to essentially financial targets.
As antibiotics are no longer the big profit items but much more lower level products with relatively limited earnings on investment they are no longer a priority. Firms are now more content to jog along with old products and formulae for the foreseeable future.
So neither the research is being done nor the long term investment being made. Also, governments have not been forthcoming to encourage them. In the
science research is now heavily dependent on either a small number of companies
or funding from government targeted at the high profit and prestige items. UK
Antibiotics are so yesterday in our go go world of money and politics. But this is not the whole story. It is argued that because of our own misuse of existing antibiotics for a range of reasons we have significantly increased the risk of accelerating the resistance to antibiotics in humans.
Family doctors and ordinary health workers have been much too free handing them out in quantity when neither needed nor appropriate. For personal hygiene we have become careless of basics, even in hospitals, relying on drugs and other heavy duty chemicals to do the job instead.
The result is that the antibiotics which are used can be disrupted by a lot of the other stuff and again used wrongly. This is the way resistance to the old basic antibiotics builds up and increases the need for extra research and work for new formulae.
Also, we have been shovelling antibiotics large scale into the production of basic foods in livestock and poultry. These are part of our food chain that means that when we go to the supermarket looking for cheap food offers were are giving ourselves another dose of antibiotics into the bargain. Horsemeat in the burgers may be the least of our problems.
It might have been possible to explain what it was like growing up in a world without antibiotics to deal with infections and the rest but this blog does not go in for horror stories.
Be afraid, be very afraid.