Superbugs pose graver threat than Covid-19. Here's all you need to know about antimicrobial resistance | Health - Hindustan Times

Superbugs pose graver threat than Covid-19. Here's all you need to know about antimicrobial resistance

ByZarafshan Shiraz, New Delhi
May 15, 2024 04:45 PM IST

The rise of drug-resistant superbugs is a pressing issue that can potentially eclipse the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Here's all you need to know

As Covid-19 curve flattens, experts warn about the worrisome spike in drug-resistant superbugs that pose a greater risk that coronavirus and cause negative health outcomes as the bacteria is evolving and becoming resistant to existing antibiotics. The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified this antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as one of the biggest global health threats facing humanity and Prof Dame Sally Davies, England’s former chief medical officer, who is now the UK’s special envoy on antimicrobial resistance, too warned of the consequences if the world fails to tackle the problem within the next decade.

Superbugs pose graver threat than Covid-19. Here's all you need to know about antimicrobial resistance (Image by starline on Freepik)
Superbugs pose graver threat than Covid-19. Here's all you need to know about antimicrobial resistance (Image by starline on Freepik)

Having lost her goddaughter two years ago to an infection that could not be treated, Prof Dame Sally Davies cautioned, “It looks like a lot of people with untreatable infections, and we would have to move to isolating people who were untreatable in order not to infect their families and communities. So it’s a really disastrous picture. It would make some of Covid look minor. If we haven’t made good strides in the next 10 years, then I’m really scared.”

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In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Sachin Kumar, Senior Consultant, Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine at Sakra World Hospital, explained, “AMR or antimicrobial resistance happens when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites evolve to resist medications meant to fight them. This makes infections harder to treat, raising the risk of severe illness, death, and spreading infections. AMR is a major threat, weakening the power of antibiotics and other drugs, leading to longer illnesses, higher medical expenses, and more deaths. If not dealt with, AMR could make previously treatable infections untreatable, causing a worldwide health emergency.”

He elaborated, “Additionally, AMR affects not only individuals but also disrupts the environmental food chain, potentially causing the death of various organisms. Failing to address AMR could lead to untreatable infections, requiring isolation measures to curb further spread. This situation would pose a significant challenge, potentially surpassing the difficulties encountered during the Covid-19 pandemic. It's crucial to refrain from unnecessary medication without proper consultation, as AMR can have carcinogenic effects and affect respiratory health. Unlike Covid-19, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) won't fade away as people develop immunity from exposure or vaccines. AMR will persist for many years without stopping. With viruses, they often fade away as more people become immune but AMR doesn't work that way.”

The emergence of drug-resistant superbugs poses significant challenges to achieving herd immunity. Dr Sachin Kumar revealed, “First, their resistance to antibiotics can reduce the effectiveness of vaccines, commonly used to treat secondary infections linked to vaccine-preventable diseases. This undermines the ability of vaccination to confer immunity, resulting in more severe illness in affected individuals. Secondly, drug-resistant superbugs contribute to disease transmission by causing severe and prolonged infections, making it harder to establish and maintain herd immunity in communities. Furthermore, the presence of these superbugs may compromise standard infection control measures like hand hygiene and quarantine protocols, crucial for managing outbreaks and safeguarding herd immunity.”

He alerted, “Moreover, vulnerable populations, including older adults and those with weakened immune systems, are disproportionately affected by drug-resistant superbugs, exacerbating the challenges in maintaining herd immunity. Their diminished capacity to generate a robust immune response adds complexity to efforts aimed at controlling the spread of infectious diseases. In conclusion, the rise of drug-resistant superbugs presents a substantial barrier to achieving and maintaining herd immunity, highlighting the need for comprehensive strategies to tackle this urgent public health issue.”

Dr Manjusha Agarwal, Senior Consultant Internal Medicine at Gleneagles Hospitals in Mumbai's Parel, shared, “Some infections caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites can not be managed with the available medicines in the country. Unlike viruses, bacterial infections, the infections caused by these superbugs are challenging to treat owing to antibiotic resistance. This will further increase the burden on the healthcare system in the future.”

She added, “The higher prevalence of drug-resistant superbugs arises because of the factors such as the overuse and misuse of antibiotics by people without the doctor's knowledge. Moreover, in future, there will be a huge problem in treating even common infections and this will impact one's overall well-being. One has to exercise caution will using antibiotics. It is better to discuss this with the doctor and ensure you don't overuse medication or self-medicate.”

Echoing that the rise of drug-resistant superbugs is a pressing issue that could potentially eclipse the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Praveen Sikri, CEO at Ikris Pharma Network, concluded, “These formidable bacteria, resistant to multiple antibiotics, threaten to undermine decades of medical advancements. If left unchecked, common infections could become untreatable, leading to higher mortality rates and overwhelming healthcare systems globally. There should be more focus on innovation in antibiotic research and development is more crucial than ever. The lawmakers should be dedicated to investing in new treatments, promoting responsible antibiotic use, and collaborating with global health organisations to combat this emerging threat. Together, we can prevent a future where superbugs pose an even greater crisis than the recent pandemic.”

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