Feb 03 2015

Antibiotic Resistance – A World Health Crisis

It is interesting in this day and age that many fear vaccines, where as what we should be concerned about, are antibiotics, well actually it is this resistance of antibiotics we should be concerned about. On February 1st, 2015 CBC’s radio show The Sunday Edition had a guest, Dame Sally Davies the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, who discussed that antibiotic-resistance is becoming a world health crisis.


At this time in the first world 7% of deaths or due to antibiotic-resistant infections but in South East Asia 1 child under the age of 5 dies from an antibiotic-resistant infection every 5 minutes.

Why is this becoming a problem?

  1. Bacteria replicate and therefore evolve quickly. In fact there is a new population of bacteria every 20 minutes! So when one bacteria develops a gene that can resist the antibiotic it does not take long before it has multiplied and given this new gene to it’s many bacterial offspring.
  2. Bacteria can also share its resistance genes with other bacteria! Not just by replicating.
  3. The development of new antibiotics is not occurring, as it is a money-losing project for pharmaceutical companies. A lot of money is spent in research and development of a new medication. But with resistance of antibiotics they soon become ineffective and thus no longer used. If not useful and thus not bought, pharmaceutical companies do not make their money back that was spent on research and development.
  4. In appropriate use of antibiotics – incorrect doses, not treating for the correct duration, or treating viral infections with antibiotics all leads to resistant infections.
  5. In third world countries one can buy antibiotics over the counter which means they can be used inappropriately.
  6. In 1st world countries we use antibiotics when they are not needed and many do not finish the prescriptions.
  7. Many Internet pharmacies may look legitimate but are not; they are not regulated and may not deliver what you actually ordered. For example you may have a prescription for 500mg of medication but your capsules may only contain 100mg. This incorrect dose results in injuring the bacteria but NOT killing them and thus the bacteria can replicate and evolve.
  8. There is the use of antibiotics in our food production. This helps keeps the cost of meat down but at what risk. At this time there isn’t actually a link between this practice and antibiotic-resistance BUT studies haven’t really been done – but common sense says that it is likely an issue. We need to do the studies and then improve our meat hygiene to avoid the use of antibiotics. But this may raise the cost of production and thus increase the price in the store.


I have worked as a veterinarian now for 23 years with my last 16 years being in Abbotsford. Though not a study and only an observation, during my time at the Fraser Valley Animal Hospital, I have noticed that resistant infections becoming an increasing problem in our pets. I have dogs with ear infections or urinary infections that will not respond to any of our antibiotics. My most serious of cases was a beagle who had had his ear treated for years with no significant improvement. With tests and cultures we were able to beat the infection but only with the dog being put under anesthesia for weekly treatments. I also had a young dog with a urinary tract infection that on culture would only respond to an expensive injectable antibiotic. The dog was brought in 3 times a day for 2 weeks to be given her i.v. injections.

At this time we still often have options on difficult cases, but they are dwindling and expensive. But if we stay the course, then what? How do I help the pet? How do I help the owners? What is even more frightening is that it is predicated over time, human deaths related to bacterial infections will rise to 50%. Infections like TB, which was once deadly, will become deadly once again.

What can you do?

Only take antibiotics yourself or for your pet IF there is an infection that responds to antibiotics. Ensure cultures are done, yes it costs more, but it tells us what bug is growing and what antibiotic will work. Remember as we learn more, things will change. Where you once were given antibiotics you may not no longer be given antibiotics. And finally always finish your antibiotic prescriptions.


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