Antibiotics Awareness Month Offers Dose of Safety, Caution

People in 'developed' countries no longer die from infections, right? Wrong. The truth is that deadly infections, which some might assume are a thing of the past, threaten everyone today and more so tomorrow—unless something is done about it, that is. The problem with antibiotic resistance is something few have considered, but it has become alarming enough for the World Health Organization to designate the week of Nov. 16 to Nov. 22 as Antibiotic Awareness Week.

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria and other microorganisms change in ways to resist the drugs being used against them, which is in part an unavoidable result of microorganisms trying to survive.  However, this minor inevitability has escalated into a global health crisis for a combination of reasons.

For one, microbes are becoming resistant faster than new antibiotics become available. The development of antibiotics is a timely and costly endeavor and the reality is that antibiotics do not command a premium price in the market. Companies are reluctant to develop and produce drugs that an individual will only use a couple of days at a time. Yet, of course, the burden is not all on them.

Health policies make it tough for promising drugs to reach the market (although that is something the Generating Antibiotics Incentives Now (GAIN) Act is actively seeking to improve upon). Additionally, the overprescription of antibiotics and the use of medically-important antibiotics to promote growth in livestock add to the problem.  

“It's scary to think that at some point, they may not have any more options to treat you,” Tania Gray PO '19, a student in Pomona College’s Science and the Public Health course, said.

On Nov. 18, the World Health Organization tweeted to remind us that “antibiotics don't cure viruses like colds and flu.” So don't curse Student Health Services the next time you walk out without a prescription, even though you might have thought antibiotics could come to your rescue. And if you do get a prescription, make sure to take it as directed.

While it may be tempting for people to stop their courses once they are feeling better, chances are the bacteria or infectious agent that made you sick in the first place will come back. In fact, it may have never really left. Most likely, you merely killed off the weaker strains, leaving the stronger individuals to regroup and attack again.  

Unknowingly, individuals are slowly adding to the ineffectiveness of current antibiotics and condemning the world to a post-antibiotics future. Think about the fact that in a pre-antibiotic past, people could die from any infected wound. As far-fetched as that sounds right now, someday in the near future, your next big paper cut might be the one that literally kills you.

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