Antibiotic resistance has become a major problem in medicine that if we are not mindful can usher us into a post-antibiotic era, meaning that antibiotics will become ineffective at treating certain infections due to bacteria coming resistant to common antibiotics that have been prescribed unnecessarily for viral infections. This year marks the first death of a New Zealand patient after contracting an infection resistant to all known antibiotics. According to Maryn Mckenna, author of Superbug, “doctors declared him the first patient of the "post-antibiotic era." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently warned that drug-resistant bacteria kill at least 23,000 people annually in the U.S, and cost the health care system $20 billion per year.
The danger of misusing antibiotics is that the medicine kills both good and bad bacteria in your body, which makes you more susceptible to infections that may have become resistant to antibiotics. Here in Oregon, the Oregon Health Authority has created a committee called AWARE which is part of a national initiative that provides resources and information to patients and physicians about antibiotic resistance and how through some basic education we can decrease the amount of “superbugs” that are created. This informational PowerPoint that addresses some of the major concerns people have when flu and cold season comes around.
The cost of research for antibiotics is another factor in why new antibiotics have not been created to combat antibiotic resistance. Research is quite costly and the profit margin is low for antibiotics, because they are a one-time use medication, making the priority for development low. Pharmaceutical profit margin come mostly from chronic disease medications, normally when a vaccination or new medication is needed it comes at the cost of lives from pandemics.
Luckily, GAIN (Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now) Act, a bipartisan bill was signed in July 2012 by President Obama to fast-track the creation of new antibiotics. Twelve new antibiotics are in development and have received fast-track status, which should speed up the approval of new drugs for difficult-to-treat conditions. Less than one percent of the bacterial species on the planet have been cultured by scientists, meaning there are a lot of possibilities out there that remain untested. And in the future, as technology advances we may even see if nanotechnology will be able to fight antibiotic resistance.