It’s hard to go into a doctor’s office without seeing merchandise from posters to pens related to an antibiotic. They lurk everywhere — baby formula, over the counter, even in livestock. In may ways it's become the aspirin of diseases.
While the purpose of antibiotics was to kill infections, these drugs have been used so much that it’s allowed bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi to build immunity and resistance, which of course increases the demand for more drugs. But another surprising consequence is the discovery of these newly immune pathogens (or “superbugs”) in the human body that have become a worldwide pandemic. And by 2050, they’re going to have an enormous impact on the world’s economy.
The World Bank studied this new phenomenon of Antimicrobial resistance in a study called “Drug Resistant Infections: A Threat to Our Economic Future.” Researchers considered the consequences of a decreased labor supply and lower livestock productivity (due to the result of “superbugs” and AMR).
By 2050, it’s predicted that annual health care costs would rise 25 percent in low-income countries, 15 percent in middle-income countries and 6 percent in high-income countries — or $1 trillion per year. Slowed down by disease, global livestock production would also decline between 2.6 and 7.5 percent.
But here’s the really scary part: pathogens will evolve, so no matter what cure is discovered they will always develop immunity over time. The question is should we make new drugs?
Research shows that the first-generation of antibiotics is no longer effective in many cases. In fact, one million children die each year to treatable diseases like pneumonia and sepsis. A lot of them can’t afford the newest antibiotics, or don’t have them available in their country.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 23,000 Americans die each year from infections by bacteria that are immune to antibiotics. CDC also says antibiotics are improperly prescribed 50 percent of the time.
The reality is “superbugs” threaten all the milestones we’ve accomplished in the last century, making it harder to treat diseases in which we’ve already found cures. As the study showed, gonorrhea has become harder to treat because of AMR. Doctors are now forced to give alternative (and more painful) medicine, including injecting iodine through urethral or vaginal catheters.
In a nutshell, the wonder drug we once were so proud of has become a crazy ex-girlfriend who won’t move out. Antibiotics are everywhere, and little by little it’s strengthening the very viruses we want it to weaken — and that accounts for all viruses.
It’s time we pay attention.