The resistant bacteria problem
One of the most alarming consequences of antibiotic overuse is the emergence and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which could bring "the end of modern medicine as we know it" (Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization, 2012).
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria lose their sensitivity to antibiotics. It develops when a bacteria mutates or acquires a resistance gene. Resistant bacteria are able to withstand attack by antibiotics so that standard treatments become ineffective and infections persist and may spread to other people.
Resistance of microbial pathogens to antibiotics is increasing worldwide at an accelerating rate, with a concomitant increase in morbidity and mortality associated with infections caused by antibiotic-resistant pathogens. At least 2 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year in the US alone, and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections. In the European Union, an estimated 400,000 patients present with resistant bacterial strains each year, of which 25,000 patients die. Consequently, the World Health Organization has warned that therapeutic coverage will be insufficient within 10 years, putting the world at risk of entering a “post-antibiotic era”, in which antibiotics will no longer be effective against infectious diseases. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention considers this phenomenon "one of the world's most pressing health problems in the 21st century".
1. WHO, http://www.who.int/dg/speeches/2012/amr_20120314/en/
2. CDC | Threat Report 2013 | Antimicrobial Resistance
3. WHO | Antimicrobial resistance. Available from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs194/en/index.html