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Treatment practices

Antibiotic resistance

Sir Alexander Fleming and his discovery of the antibiotic penicillin more than 80 years ago revolutionised the treatment of bacterial infections. Since the discovery of this first antibiotic, many more modern and more effective antibiotics have been developed.

Only 20% of all antibiotics are used in hospital therapy. The remaining 80% are prescribed outside the hospital environment. However, some 50% of these patients are needlessly given antibiotics, usually because of a respiratory tract infection caused by a virus.

Virus attack

This indiscriminate use of antibiotics around the world has led to the development and spread of resistant bacteria, and this trend is still increasing.

In rare cases, antibiotic resistance occurs spontaneously without an identifiable external influence. But when they have to survive antibiotic therapy, bacteria can genetically mutate with unbelievable speed and frequency. And the more antibiotics are used, the more quickly bacterial resistance develops.

Growing resistance in Europe

In 2002, a scientific study highlighted the link between the frequency with which antibiotics are used and the number of resistant bacterial strains in the overall European population. It showed that the number of prescribed antibiotics correlates positively with the occurrence of bacterial resistance.

Resistance as a function of antibiotic consumption

This antibiotic resistance means that nowadays even trivial bacterial infections sometimes need to be treated with ”reserve antibiotics”. It also means that increasing numbers of bacterial strains are developing resistance to these emergency medications.

The most serious situation occurs when a bacterial pathogen becomes resistant to all currently available antibiotics. If the immune system can′t protect itself against this sort of pathogen, septic shock may result, with multiple organ failure and ultimately death. Multi-resistant bacteria are already causing around 50,000 deaths per year in Europe.

The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) formulates it as follows:
”Antibiotic resistance is a growing public health concern worldwide. When a person is infected with an antibiotic-resistant bacterium, not only is treatment of that patient more difficult, but the antibiotic-resistant bacterium may spread to other people.”

When antibiotics don′t work, the result can be:

  • longer illnesses
  • more complicated illnesses
  • more visits to the doctor
  • the use of stronger and more expensive drugs
  • more deaths caused by bacterial infections

Did you know?

Sir Alexander Fleming also discovered lysozyme, an antibacterial enzyme found in saliva and tears. It naturally occurs in the immune system.

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