Blog Health Care

A world with and without antibiotics

Written by Sharon-Rose Nartey, undergraduate student, University of Notre Dame and participant in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

In Jason Newland’s (professor in the Department of Pediatrics) Global Health Conversation, he discusses the shift in antibiotic use over the past 15 years. He starts off by setting the stage of a nation without antibiotics, one where preventable illnesses are rampant and often a death sentence. Physician recommendations are usually bed rest and good nursing care, as they realize that even they are not a match for the small microbes plaguing the population. Then comes the sulfa drug revolution of the 1900’s.

Discovered by the German physician Gerhard Domagk, sulfa drugs are the forerunners of antibiotics and revolutionize treatments for once fatal diseases. Along with changes in public health such as improvements in sanitation and hygiene, these “magic bullets” usher the nation into an era of growth and prosperity. Infant mortality rates decrease dramatically as diseases such as smallpox, diphtheria, and measles are eradicated and slowly, the average life expectancy begins to increase.

Less than a century later, we find ourselves facing a new problem, antibiotic resistance (ABR). Along with many other factors, the over prescription of antibiotics has led to an increase in drug resistant strains. Antibiotics that could previously treat diseases are no longer effective, pushing us closer and closer to the use of last-line antibiotics. Therein lies the problem; after the last line of drugs are used, what’s next? Could we be entering an era where old diseases make a comeback? Estimates contend that in 2050 we could face 10 million deaths annually due to ABR, costing more than 100 trillion dollars.

Dr. Newland proposes antibiotic stewardship as a preventative method. Physician education on the over prescription of antibiotics proves promising in lowering rates of unnecessary antibiotic distribution. As consumers, we must also educate ourselves on ABR. Even if it doesn’t affect us, it will affect our children and generations to come.