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Antibiotic demand has surged by 65 percent

Antibiotic prescriptions have shot up by 65 percent overall and by 39 percent per person in 15 years, new research reveals. 

In the period from 2000 to 2015, 24.5 billion prescriptions for the infection-fighting drugs were written a day.

This rise comes even as scientists and doctors around the world warned that overuse was driving a decline in the drugs’ effectiveness that could spell disaster if humans were plagued by an antibiotic-resistant superbug.

Rates of increase varied from country to country, with higher rates in poorer countries.

These differences suggested to the authors from the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy that antibiotic consumption could be reduced, a move that must be made in order to head off this mounting global health crisis.

More than 24 billion antibiotic prescriptions are written a day, a new study found, but about one third of those is unnecessary 

Antibiotics are among the most key and revolutionary medicines to human survival.

There are six major groups of antibiotics that can fight a wide variety of bacterial infections – ranging from common STDs to meningitis and tetanus – but they are useless against viral or fungal infections.

Important though these drugs are, they have become vastly overprescribed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that as many as one in three antibiotics are wrongly prescribed.

Historically, there has been a common public misconception that taking antibiotics cannot do any harm, but might help fight off an illness.

Although taking an antibiotic unnecessarily is unlikely to make you sick in and of itself, doing so can create a world of trouble down the line by making room for opportunistic infections or making you resistant to the drug.

Antibiotics disable bacterial cells by destroying their walls, preventing them from replicating, or freezing the mechanics that make the invading cells run.

But in the process of this attack, they can also damage or destroy healthy bacteria – especially those that live in the gut – that are key to the human body’s delicate balance.

Worse yet, the bacteria that antibiotics target mount their own defense, changing and evolving in ways that make them immune to the antibiotic’s efforts.

This means that the next time someone gets an infection from the same or, in some cases, even a related, bacteria, it may be untreatable. 

The CDC says that the development of resistance ‘has been called of the world’s most pressing public health problems.’

Since the development of antibiotics in the 1920s, they’ve become increasingly common, and so has resistance to them.

Once a strain of bacteria develops antibiotic resistance in one population of people, that resistant bacteria can spread to other people and even other countries at rates that have rapidly accelerated as travel becomes quicker and more common.

Problematically, the more resistant bacteria become, the more inclined doctors are to prescribe a second line antibiotic that would fight it, without knowing for certain that a person actually has a resistant bacteria.

The result can be a bacteria that is resistant to both drugs, which is cause for serious public health concerns.

The new study found that, globally, antibiotic consumption has gone up by about 39 percent on an individual basis, while collective consumption has soared by 65 percent.

There is some good news: prescriptions have actually fallen very slightly in high-income countries (as an aggregate), but are rising in middle- and low-income countries.

The challenge, says study co-author Dr Eili Klein of Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, is ‘to safely and effectively reduce consumption [globally] but still increase access in low- and middle-income countries that still have a higher burden of disease,’ he says.