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Antibiotic Resistance: Lancet report flags Indians’ tendency to pop these pills ‘inappropriately’

In cases of serious illness, this phenomenon can make antibiotics ineffective, resulting in untreatable infections

The controversial report claimed that largely, unrestricted over-the-counter sales of most antibiotics were among the reasons behind the inappropriate use of the drugs

Written by Kashish Sharma |Published : September 19, 2022 6:30 PM IST

Recently, a Lancet report created sensation by alleging that the inappropriate use of antibiotics is a significant driver of antibiotic resistance in India. The Health Ministry called the observation "inappropriate" and "misleading". While the Ministry reverted to saying that the per capita consumption of antibiotics in India was much less than in other countries, there is no doubt that the threat caused by antibiotic resistance is on the rise. As per reports, the extended use of antibiotics during the pandemic has further magnified the problem.

As per the WHO, over 1.27 million people worldwide die of bacterial Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) yearly. Decades of misuse and overuse of antibiotics have made these drugs less effective in treating common infectious diseases. The controversial Lancet report claimed that largely, unrestricted over-the-counter sales of most antibiotics were a reason behind the appropriate use of the drugs. Before proceeding further, it will be a good idea to understand what causes the resistance and how we might be contributing to it.

About Antibiotic Resistance

In simple words, antibiotic or antimicrobial resistance happens when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to fight the medicinal drugs designed to kill them. The phenomenon is an urgent global public health threat and has the potential to affect people at any stage of life. Many health conditions are dependent on the ability to fight infections using antibiotics including joint replacements, organ transplants, cancer therapy and the treatment of chronic illnesses like diabetes, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis

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Are we consuming antibiotics mindlessly?

Antibiotics save lives but their overuse can lead to the development of resistant germs. The resistance develops when the presence of antibiotics in the system pressure bacteria or other pathogens to adapt. If we consume antibiotics mindlessly even when not required, their presence in the system for longer durations can cause the germs to develop defense strategies against these antibiotics. This developed resistance is passed through the generation of pathogens. With every new generation, the pathogen becomes better and more defensive against the antibiotic. In cases of serious illness, this phenomenon can make antibiotics ineffective, resulting in untreatable infections.

What is meant by inappropriate antibiotic consumption?

For most of us, antibiotics are life-saving drugs but in the longer run, they do more harm than good. With the easy availability of antibiotics, their inappropriate use has been on the rise. Following are some situations where antibiotics are being used inappropriately-

  • Unnecessarily prescribing antibiotics when it is not needed, for instance, in easily recoverable diseases like a common cold
  • A wrong diagnosis that leads to the intake of a wrong antibiotic
  • Prescribing the wrong dosage of an antibiotic
  • Prescribing antibiotics for the wrong length of time
  • Engaging in self-medication, buying antibiotics over the counter and consuming them mindlessly.

As per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 per cent of antibiotics prescribed in the outpatient setting are unnecessary.

How COVID-19 made it all the worse

Antibiotics usually work against bacteria and can only increase immune response in virus-caused illnesses. Studies show that patients hospitalized with COVID-19 (a virus-caused condition) were treated with antibiotics in the absence of microbiological confirmation of the diagnosis. The reason might be due to less time available to distinguish between viral from bacterial pneumonia. Also, along with COVID, patients acquired secondary co-infections that required antibiotic treatment. As per some reports, longer hospitalization duration and accumulation of antibiotic-resistant genes also contributed to the spread of the resistance.

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