Most of you reading this are fortunate enough to have lived all or most of your life in a world with access to antibiotics.
For all of their downfalls and risks, having access to effective antibiotics can save your life – preventing a minor wound from spreading a life-threatening infection, for instance, and allowing for potentially life-threatening conditions, like pneumonia, to be effectively treated.
The problem is that antibiotic's primary target – bacteria – is smart. Even under the best circumstances, bacteria can eventually adapt to resist and overpower once-effective antibiotics.
In recent decades, however, the overuse and misuse of antibiotics has greatly sped up this process, and we're now seeing what it's like to live in a post-antibiotic era. According to the World Health Organization (WHO):1
"WHO's 2014 report on global surveillance of antimicrobial resistance revealed that antibiotic resistance is no longer a prediction for the future; it is happening right now, across the world, and is putting at risk the ability to treat common infections in the community and hospitals.
Without urgent, coordinated action, the world is heading towards a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries, which have been treatable for decades, can once again kill."
Treating Superbugs With Antibiotics May Make People Sicker
In the U.S., at least 2 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year, and at least 23,000 die as a result.2 This is already a staggering number, but the problem is slated to get worse.
A 2015 report commissioned by UK Prime Minister David Cameron estimated that by 2050, antibiotic resistance will have killed 300 million people, with the annual global death toll reaching 10 million, and the global cost for treatment reaching $100 trillion.
A mere 15 years from now, in the year 2030, antibiotic-resistant disease — if left to spiral out of control — is expected to have killed 100 million.3 One of the most common, and formidable, antibiotic-resistant pathogens in the US is MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
MRSA is a cause of skin infections that can spiral out of control, leading to bloodstream infections, pneumonia, infections at surgical sites, and even death. In the US, more than 80,000 invasive infections and 11,000 deaths are caused by MRSA each year.
Current national guidelines set by the Infectious Diseases Society of America call for antimicrobial treatment of MRSA, but this only highlights how little is actually known about how to treat resistant superbugs.
New research published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe revealed that commonly prescribed antibiotics may actually make MRSA infections worse.4
In the study, beta-lactam antibiotics (similar to methicillin) caused the MRSA bacteria in treated mice to build inflammatory cell walls leading to tissue damage.
In typical staph infections, such antibiotics work by neutralizing enzymes that build cell walls.One of the enzymes, PBP2A, was not neutralized by the antibiotics, however, and enabled MRSA to continue building cell walls. MRSA also had an altered cell wall structure that allowed it to spread.5
The researchers found that overall, when MRSA-infected mice were treated with the antibiotics, they became even sicker.