In the nearest future, the treatment of banal angina, not to mention more serious infectious diseases, promises to become a big problem; even a usual scratch on a knee of a child may become deadly. Such a joyless perspective for humanity is predicted by the experts of the World Health Organization (WHO), who pay attention to the fact that a number of diseases which are not treatable with antibiotics is annually growing in the world (Antimicrobial resistance, 2012). It seems that until recently, these medicines managed to easily cope with the same infections, but now they have become completely useless, because the disease-causing germs and bacteria have learned to recognize the danger and defend themselves.
Professor Peter Hawkey is sure that the problem of resistance to antibiotics has the same significance in medicine as the problem of global warming in other areas. According to the scientist, a slow, but steady growth of the number of drug-resistant strains can lead to the transformation of common infectious diseases into incurable ones (Hawkey & Jones, 2009).
To date, some pathogens have already developed resistance to almost all medicines. According to statistics, the mortality of patients infected with such antibiotic-resistant pathogens has increased by 50% in some cases (Furness, 2012). Just in the EU-countries, 25,000 people annually die from antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections (Antimicrobial resistance, 2012). Thus, the head of the WHO Margaret Chan claims that the humanity now deals with such a high level of antibiotic resistance, that this situation could mean the “end of medicine as we know it”ť (Furness, 2012), as any newly-developed antibiotic may any time become ineffective.
Antibiotics discovered in 1928 by the British bacteriologist Alexander Fleming made a real revolution in the treatment of infectious diseases, having become the greatest boon to mankind and the salvation of millions of people. However, their widespread and not usually correct application led to the situation that the pathogen microcosm started to resist and adapt to new challenges in its own way, which caused mutations and genes that able to digest antibiotics. For example, at the beginning of the era of antibiotics, streptococci were treated with penicillin, and now they have their own enzyme beta-lactamase, which decomposes penicillin; and there are even several types of streptococci, which cannot live without penicillin.
As some pathogens have developed resistant insensitiveness to many antibiotics over time, the rapid spread of these superbacteria and supermicrobes around the world is regarded today by experts as the global problem in modern medicine. At the moment, 68 out of 115 developed antibiotics have almost no effect. Chan acknowledges that we are now losing our first-line antibiotics (Furness, 2012). To replace them, the more expensive and more toxic drugs are typically used, but the courses of treatment with such medicines get significantly lengthened, and may extensively require intensive care departments for their implementation. According to experts, if the resistance to antimicrobial agents is increasing by only 15-17%, the cost of treating a patient is doubled (Hawkey & Jones, 2009). Only in the EU-countries, the economic damage from the anti-microbial resistance is estimated at 1.5 billion euros (Antimicrobial resistance, 2012).
An outbreak of intestinal infection of a new type showed how vulnerable we all are, having struck Germany and about a dozen European countries last year. The rapidly spread plague struck several thousand people, about forty of them died. Microbiologists managed to identify the causative agent of the epidemic – enterohaemorrhagic E. coli O104: H4 strain. The source of infection was found in germinated cereals and legumes on a farm in Lower Saxony, and later the same strain was found in nearby waters. But the most interesting thing revealed when researchers analyzed bacteria: it turned out that it was not only resistant to a very long list of antibiotics, in fact, many of them only increased the release of toxins; that is, the usual antibiotic treatment against the disease doesn’t work (Schmieder & Edwards, 2012).
Recently, March 24 was the World TB Day. Defeating this disease is still not possible, and it is largely due to the fact that tuberculosis is also becoming drug resistant. According to the WHO, 440,000 cases of tuberculosis are registered every year in the world, while 150,000 patients are resistant to all available antibiotics. By 2015, experts predict two million new cases of drug resistant tuberculosis (Antimicrobial resistance, 2012).
Nevertheless, the man himself continues to enhance the resistance problem, still not acknowledging that the widespread use of antibiotics is, in fact, changing the world around us. For example, a recent large study in the U.S. showed that even the tap water contains microdoses of antibiotics. That is, first drugs emerged in a natural way in the sewers, then in the groundwater and reservoirs, and from there entered the water supply (Eiland & Gatlin, 2008). Antibiotics are present even in the air, especially near the large pharmaceutical factories. Antibacterials are widely used in agriculture, e.g., in livestock production, veterinary, and fisheries.
What are the possible consequences? Yes, we all will be just thrown back for many decades into the pre-penicillin era when millions of people were dying from diseases that seemed to be no longer dangerous for modern people. We will find ourselves disarmed before any infection, because we will have nothing to treat it with. Thus, entering the post-antibiotic era, the humanity is to develop absolutely new defence mechanism, scientists are now working at (Schmieder & Edwards, 2012; Hawkey & Jones, 2009). The nearest future is to show whether their attempts can bring hope or the world will enter the next cycle of extinction due to epidemies.