When he invented Penicillin, a drug that would revolutionize medicine, Alexander Fleming knew that it would only be a temporary solution. The bacteria that the drug was so good at killing would simply mutate over time into a new form that was immune to the drug.
Now, over a half-century, since it first started being used, Penicillin and other drugs similar to it are becoming less and less effective, as bacteria and other viruses evolve and develop immunities to the drug that had blocked them for so long. It is beginning to become a serious health issue across the globe. However, a Maryland lawmaker is taking action against it with a proposed bill, SB 607.
The Problem of Antimicrobial Resistance
The process of a bacteria's increasing immunization to a drug is called antimicrobial resistance, and it is beginning to become a worrisome problem in the medical field. According to the World Health Organization, 700,000 people die each year already due to bacteria that has undergone antimicrobial resistance and proved immune to traditional antibiotics and medications. In the U.S. alone, more than 2 million people get infected by bacteria that proves to be immune to antibiotics each year. 23,000 of these infections prove to be fatal.
By 2050, the World Health Organization predicts that, worldwide, 10 million people will die from infections caused by antimicrobial resistant bacteria every year.
Causes of Antimicrobial Resistance
One of the main culprits behind antimicrobial resistance is the overuse of antibiotics. When they are used in unnecessary situations, antibiotics give little health benefit. However, they still improve a bacteria's resistance to the drug through the process of selective pressure by killing all of the bacteria vulnerable to an antibiotic, thereby increasing the ratio of the bacteria that is immune to it.
Overuse of Antibiotics in Livestock Puts Humans at Risk
Unfortunately, one of the places where antibiotics are overused is in agriculture. More than 70% of antibiotics are actually used on livestock. This is not to treat sick animals, though – it is to prevent disease and increase growth in animals that are overcrowded and housed in areas vulnerable to sudden and devastating sicknesses.
The drugs used to protect these animals are the same drugs that are used to combat infection in people. The sheer volume of these drugs used on livestock speeds the process of selective pressure, pushing bacteria to evolve around the drugs that protect humans as well. By using antibiotics to such an extent on livestock, we are essentially giving bacteria the practice they need to better infect human beings.
This is why a handful of lawmakers in the Maryland Senate have introduced S.B 607, a proposed law that would put limits on the use of antibiotics in livestock and in agriculture in the state of Maryland. By tightening control of the rampant overuse of antibiotics in livestock, the bill aims to focus the effectiveness of a drug on the people who count on it to keep them healthy from a potentially deadly infection.