Blog #18 - Noneffective Antibiotics (Part II): Hospitals as Receptacles for Multi-Resistant Pathogens

By NBailly 17:21, July 14 2014 (CDT)

Aachen mrsa.jpg
SEM of a human immune cell ingesting MRSA
MRSA can cause a range of illnesses, from minor skin infections to life-threatening diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis, osteomyelitis, endocarditis, and sepsis. Picture by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

In their article Noneffective Antibiotics published in June, the German business news magazine Wirtschaftswoche explains it as follows: Antibiotics are the natural weapon of molds or soil microbes against competing bacterial growth. These bacteria under siege in turn counterattack with resistances: attack and defense – the natural course of evolution. Thus it was only natural, too, that since the first human use of penicillin and co., pathogens have developed strategies in order to escape the antibiotics’ effect albeit these drugs are quite insidious weapons: Some rip holes in the cell walls of growing bacteria, while others block reading of the DNA strand, interfere with protein synthesis, or keep the pathogens from secreting so that they croak on their own toxins.

As long as a pathogen carries a resistance against just one of the above mentioned strategies, it can still be killed by an antibiotic using a different mode of action. However, the situation is more dangerous, when a bacterium acquired several antibiotic resistances. In the past decades, microorganisms have arisen that are unsusceptible to each and every of the several hundred antibiotics we have developed. Especially places like hospitals, where antibiotics are used day in and day out, are receptacles for multi-resistant germs such as the methicillin-resistant ‘’Staphylococcus aureus’’ (MRSA).

In Europe alone, 3.2 million people annually infect themselves with nosocomial, or hospital-acquired, infections. More than 37.000 of these infections end deadly. Survivors are hospitalized for a long time, and on average cause 4.000 euros of additional health care costs. In all of the EU this sums up to an economical loss of 1.5 million euros per year.

However, the problem is mostly human-made: We downright breed such resistances through the liberal use of antibiotics with humans and animals. A series of provisions could at least prevent that the process gains momentum and that new super bugs arise more quickly than researchers can develop new antibiotics. Such strategies could, for example, include a tighter regulation of antibiotics distribution. “Antibiotic drug consumption is a major driver of antibiotic resistance. Variations in antibiotic resistance across countries are attributable, in part, to different volumes and patterns for antibiotic consumption”, a research group wrote in The Lancet Infectious Disease this July. On top of diminishing the spread of antibiotic resistances, lowering the consumption of antibiotics could have another important positive effect: It would lead to that we are not continuously maltreating our own, helpful bacteria in our gut.