New Delhi Superbug Claims Another: Is Post Antibiotic Era Afoot?
A 70-year-old American woman, who was admitted in a hospital in India two years ago to treat a thigh bone fracture, died recently.
When Centres for Disease Control Atlanta, home to one of the world's most advanced laboratories, conducted tests on her wound specimen post-mortem, the cause of death was clear – New Delhi Metallo-Beta-Lactamese (NDM), the superbug that makes bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
According to tests, no drug or combination of drugs in the US could have cured her infection.
The woman was reportedly admitted several times in an Indian hospital. The fracture in her leg eventually led to an infection in her hip, but there was no antibiotic left to treat her infection.
Many bacteria that make us sick are rapidly developing defences against the treatment that we have. So that leaves us with lots of sick people and no way to cure them. Now this should freak you out because antibiotic resistance will take us back to those dark ages when one episode of flu can wipe out half the population!
Unless things change drastically, the number of deaths from antibiotic resistance is predicted to rise to 10 million by 2050, that’s many times more than the fatalities due to cancer. (Source: World Health Organisation)
Why is India So Badly Affected?
India’s dreadful sanitation, over-the-counter sale of antibiotics and overcrowding coupled with a complete lack of monitoring has created a tsunami of antibiotic resistance.
– Timothy Walsh, Professor, Cardiff University
The main reason for the drug resistant monsters? Over-the-counter sale and self medication of antibiotics. And doctors are to blame as well. In a report by the Public Health Foundation of India, 3 out of 5 doctors in metros dole out antibiotics like candy because it’s a quick fix or because patients “insist” on it.
Another factor here, patients not finishing the antibiotics prescribed. So you folks who feel that you’re not sick, so what’s the point of finishing the course; each time you be your own doctor, you are allowing bacteria to survive in your body and become resistant to that drug in the future.
And now the indiscriminate use of antibiotics has come to a situation where tens of thousands of newborns are dying, because the once miraculous cures no longer work.
According to the Union Health Ministry, 58,000 infants died in the country last year with bacterial infections that are resistant to most known antibiotics.
It’s startling and very worrying. Five years ago, we almost never saw these kinds of infections. Now, close to 100 percent of the babies referred to us have multi-drug resistant infections. Very scary.
– Dr. Neelam Kler, Head, Neonatology, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital
- If your doctor is handing out antibiotics like candies, it’s time to double check.
- India is the largest consumer of antibiotics in the world.
- By 2050, antibiotic resistance will kill 10 million people worldwide: CDC Atlanta
- 58,000 newborns died in India last year with diseases caused by drug resistant bacteria: Union Health Ministry
- India is among the top 5 countries to use antibiotics in livestock
India Among Top Five Countries in the World Using Antibiotics for Livestock
Industrial-scale animal farming is a whole other can of worms but the basics are this: about 60 percent of antibiotic use in India is on animals. Antibiotics allow farmers to pack livestock together, in ways that would otherwise spread illness like wildfire. Now because of antibiotics, animals don’t get sick, they get bigger, produce more meat.
The problem starts when people eat the medically-treated meat. Scientists believe that these therapeutic-levels of antibiotics in our food, plus the indiscriminate pill-popping we keep doing, equals big trouble.
Currently, India has no regulatory provisions for the use of anti-microbials in cattle, chicken, and pigs raised for domestic consumption.
Race Against Time
No new antibiotic has been developed in the past 15 years. What’s worse, there is no candidate in the pipeline either. With no hope for a new class of drugs, minimising the use of antibiotics is our only option. So make sure you actually need antibiotics when you are prescribed them.
Public health problems rarely spring up overnight. The issue is that not just patients, even doctors can’t comprehend the concept of a post-antibiotic world. But that is what’s at stake unless the threat is taken seriously.
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