NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Is on the Rise

June 10, 2013

Increasing antibiotic resistance is of great concern. The World Health Organization estimates that multi-drug resistance accounts for more than 150,000 deaths each year from tuberculosis alone. Without effective antibiotics in health care, humanity would be thrown back to the time when urinary tract infections and pneumonia were lethal, and infant and maternal mortality would rise, says Waldemar Ingdahl, the author of a report on antibiotic resistance policy published by the Swedish think tank Timbro.

Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advocate reducing the use of antibiotics in order to prevent resistant bacteria.

  • The relationship between prescribed antibiotics and the spread of resistance is not clear. The connection between antibiotic intake and the development of resistance is more complex than a mere link between consumption and resistance.
  • In Sweden, which has one of the lowest intakes of antibiotics in the world, prescriptions declined by about 30 percent between 1992 and 2011, yet the number of outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has increased.

If the increase in drug-resistant bacteria is not caused by increased usage of antibiotics, what could be causing the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria?

  • A possible factor contributing to antibiotic resistance is doctors' difficulty in properly distinguishing between a virus and bacteria when diagnosing a patient.
  • Unsanitary hospital environments and the negligence of cleaning staffs have also been identified as contributors to antibiotic resistance.

Few pharmaceutical companies still actively pursue the research for new antibiotics since the drugs are expensive to develop but are used only briefly by most patients.

  • If new antibiotics are developed, they are supposed to be used only in extreme cases, so as to prevent bacteria developing resistance to them. Thus, companies do not have much incentive to develop new antibiotics.
  • The extensive testing of new antibiotics by the FDA inhibits innovation. Today, it takes eight years before a drug is approved. Of the antibiotics available in the market today, 75 percent were developed before 1970.

Antibiotic resistance is a race between humanity and bacteria. The bacteria's advantage is rapid adaptation to their environment; ours is ingenuity. There is no single solution to such a complex problem as antibiotic resistance. That is why we need to leave the field open for several solutions.

Source: Waldemar Ingdahl, "How to Stop the Rise of Superbugs," The American, June 3, 2013.


Browse more articles on Health Issues