The rise of the superbugs (5 min read)

This is a blog post written by a blogger that I have recently followed. All credits go to him/her who has kindly given me permission to share here. I feel that it is a very important message that more people should be aware of.

One of the major problems that we are facing in the 21st century is the rise of superbugs or bacteria/fungi/parasites/viruses where we have no medicines to tackle, even the “secret” stash of antibiotics/anti-malarials/antivirals that doctors keep for these purposes are no longer effective against meaning that those who are ill will spread the infection to others. Most importantly, it means that we are relying only on our immune system to tackle this which unfortunately means we are slowly returning to a time when we had no effective medicines against infectious diseases if we do not do anything about it.

Present situation

Antibiotic resistance in present in every country. Patients who are infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria are more likely to have a worse outcome in terms of their disease (more likely to be ill for longer) than those who are not. According to the project called the Review on Antimicrobial resistance, the report in 2013 suggested that resistance was as dire a threat as terrorism. It calculated that the current death toll due to antibiotic resistance is around 700,000 deaths per year worldwide. The US alone according to the CDC there is an estimated 23,000 deaths per year caused by antibiotic resistance.

To make matters worse, the development of drugs for infectious diseases are underfunded. Currently, according to WHO only about 8 medicines that are going through clinical trials right now. For some areas, such as tuberculosis which according to WHO kills about 1.7 million people, causes 10.4 million people to fall ill each year has only had 2 new drugs being developed for it in the past 70 years and there is an increasing amount of multi resistant strains of TB cases, about 490,000 cases in 2016.

Why should we be concerned?

Imagine having no drugs to treat food poisoning (E. Coli one of the most common bacteria which causes food poisoning is a bacteria that is becoming resistant to many antibiotics), just like with any infectious diseases, without effective drugs to treat them this could mean prolonged illness, disability and may even lead to death. Without effective medication to treat infections it would mean many procedures such as chemotherapy, organ transplantation, major surgery (i.e. cesarean sections/ c-sections to give birth and hip replacements will become very high risk operations.

What is antibiotic week?

This is a week where the World Health Organization try and raise awareness of the importance of this problem and how our misuse of antibiotics over the years has caused this.

The cause of drug resistance

The cause of this is in fact a very natural process for any micro-organism such as bacteria, viruses, parasites. In fact animals do it too for example mosquitoes and even humans. But the reason why larger animals do this very slowly is because in our lifetime we are likely to give birth to much fewer offspring (one bacteria can divide into two ranging from 30 minutes to several hours); our population does not increase as dramatically as micro-organisms do and we do not acquire as many mutations as micro-organisms do. Also as a population we are not constantly being eradicated by different methods so there is  no selection pressure for certain mutations to have a big effect on our population.

When bacteria are exposed to a certain antibiotic for example, only those with a mutation that prevents them from being killed off by the antibiotic are left to reproduce and continue growing a colony.

How humans have accelerated the speed of drug resistance

Our misuse of antibiotics: when penicillin (the first antibiotic to be discovered) was first widely distributed. Few many people ever imagined that infectious disease would ever become a problem again so they were given out like candies even for diseases such as colds and flus (that are caused by viruses and therefore antibiotics do not have an effect on). However, if people do not take the right amount, and time of antibiotics then the bacteria who have a mutation that makes them resistant to the antibiotic and would normally be killed off if the antibiotic is taken for a little longer will would manage to survive and reproduce.

Big pharmaceutical companies do not see developing antibiotics as a major incentive. It takes around a billion dollars and roughly 10 years to get a medicine to market (FDA approved). A drug that will only be used by a small proportion of people and for a short period of time and therefore as a business they will unlikely make any returns of their initial investment in developing the drug which may likely cause them to become bankrupt. However our drug development is reliant on these companies as no-one else has the money that they have available to develop drugs.

Using antibiotics in animals: Because antibiotics can promote the growth of farm animals and to prevent the animals from becoming ill, farm animals are treated with antibiotics. Because these are animals that are eaten by humans, any bacteria that may be resistant to the antibiotics present in the animals may enter humans and colonise the gut of our intestines. Because many of the antibiotics used to treat animals is very similar in the drugs used to treat human diseases such as urinary tract infections and pneumonia, this means that antibiotics will not work as effectively. Although bacteria may be killed by cooking the meat at high heat, research on antibiotic strains show that this is the main form of transmission.

What is being done right now

  • Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership (GARDP): This aims to encourage research and development of new classes of antimicrobials (antibiotics, anti-virals) to try and increase the amount of new drugs to combat microbial resistance.
  • The Global Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System (GLASS): Collecting, analyzing and sharing data so that it would help for government officials across the globe to make decisions and co-ordinate their efforts to combat resistance.
  • Educating the public to try and make them aware of the importance of taking their drugs to the full term and at the prescribed dosage and how to prevent antibiotic resistance.
  • A piece of good news is that a new antibiotic class has been found around 2015 had been found from soil bacteria Teixobactin that is a broad spectrum antibiotic (it can be used to kill a wide range of different bacteria)



For more information please go to:


  1. Thank You for this informative post. I know a lot of people, who wants to take antibotics for a normal flu (virus)…it is sad, but I know also a doctor, who gives antibiotic out like candies.
    It is really sad.

    Liked by 1 person

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