New Delhi: It has been five days since Mehtaab Singh was last administered antibiotics to help relieve him of the intense body pain due to a health complication. Yet there are no visible signs that could assure his doctors about any improvement. Staring helplessly are the relatives who are puzzled as to why the medicines are not working since he has no history of any irregular antibiotics consumption. During the course of treatment, it was observed that he has been fond of and consuming the chicken meat quite frequently. How does that matter one may ask? It did as the chickens were supplied from a Punjab based poultry farm where the antibiotics had been used in abundance.
The above example clearly shows that the causes of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) are no longer limited to any one medium. Recently a study in Mumbai detected antibiotic resistant bacteria in commonly consumed food items like raw chicken and sprouted beans. Scientists had isolated bacteria resistant to antibiotics from food products available in the market. High levels of resistance to many important antibiotics were found across the board, ranging from 39 percent for ciprofloxacin, which is used to treat respiratory infections, to 86 percent for nalidixic acid, which is used to treat urinary tract infections. Almost 60 percent of the Escherichia coli (E. coli) samples analyzed contained ‘resistance conferring’ genes, that not only render many antibiotics ineffective but can also be easily passed on to other types of bacteria.
Consumption of such items could make people resistant to drugs and make treatment of infections with antibiotics difficult.
What drives this menace?
Ignorance about the menace is also an indirect cause for its spreading. As per a survey done by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 12 countries, almost two thirds (64 percent) of some 10 000 people who were surveyed across 12 countries say they know antibiotic resistance is an issue that could affect them and their families, but how it affects them and what they can do to address it are not well understood. For example, 64 percent of respondents believe antibiotics can be used to treat colds and flu, despite the fact that antibiotics have no impact on viruses. Close to one third (32 percent) of people surveyed believe they should stop taking antibiotics when they feel better, rather than completing the prescribed course of treatment.
Inappropriate use of antibiotics whether through taking them when they are not required, taking an incomplete course, or taking them too regularly makes bacterial infections immune to antibiotics. Globally 700 000 people die every year as a result of once-treatable health conditions.
India is a major drug producer with some of the highest sales of antibiotics globally and the highest levels of AMR. Contributing factors include failures of India’s drug regulatory system which have been identified in government reports, the sale of antibiotics without prescription, and the use of fixed-dose combination (FDC) antibiotics – formulations composed of two or more drugs in a single pill.
Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria change and become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat the infections they cause. Over-use and misuse of antibiotics at various levels increase the development of resistant bacteria. Also, the gaps in understanding and misconceptions too contribute to this phenomenon.