America has a real fear of the unknown. Media agencies, government officials, and citizens tend to focus on fears and problems in other parts of the world instead of addressing issues and fears at home.
Take Ebola, for example. Is it a threat in America? Not really. A few people have come in contact with the disease and died, but the larger population is not at risk. There was a reported case in New York, one of the densest metropolises in America, and it was contained. America has a better healthcare system and is more prepared for an outbreak like Ebola than the affected countries in West Africa, where the disease has proliferated and become a real threat.
A far more concerning epidemic that can have real implications in America, however, is an Indian-born superbug called NDM1, which is almost untreatable by all known antibiotics.
Although NDM1 is a major concern, it’s not necessarily the biggest concern in India. An alarming number of babies being born in India are dying because they are resistant to antibiotics. In fact, last year alone, 58,000 newborn babies died in India because traditional antibiotics—the miraculous “superdrugs” of the past—are no longer effective. The bacteria have morphed and conditions like pneumonia, tuberculosis, and sepsis are now, once again, major health threats.
Doctors in India are saying that babies are coming in with infections that were unheard of five years ago because they used to be easily treated, but now they are dying.
Researchers suggest that because of the presence of bacteria and antibiotics in India—in the water, sewage, livestock, and individuals—many of the bacteria are immune to almost every antibiotic.
How Does This Affect America?
Although there are many differences between America and India regarding the spread and containment of bacteria, antibiotic immunity and antibiotic-resistant bacteria is still a major concern in the United States. Bacteria are spread much more easily in India than America. India has the highest rate of bacterial infection in the world and the country’s citizens take more antibiotics than anybody else. Issues like poor sanitation and dense population have made it very easy for bacteria to spread.
The problem in America, however, has to do with over-prescription and antibiotics in the water supply. There are antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria in America, and roughly half of all prescriptions are unnecessary. This means that individuals who are taking the antibiotics can build up immunity, due to the fact that they are present in the bloodstream.
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Many animals produced in America for human consumption are also injected with antibiotics, potentially making us even more resistant to previously treatable bacteria. The Department of National Defense has labeled the over-prescription of antibiotics and the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria a threat to national security.
A New York Times article reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that two million Americans are sickened by antibiotic-resistant bacteria and 23,000 will die as a result. But efforts here at home and in Europe to slow prescriptions and hold doctors who over-prescribe accountable have helped curb the problem.
Having said that, this doesn’t mean that over-prescription and other issues regarding antibiotics and resistant bacteria aren’t still a major problem in developing countries—a problem that can have global implications.
What Can You Do?
An antibiotic-resistant superbug is very difficult to defend against. If its genetic code makes it immune to existing medications and treatments, there isn’t much you can do. But what I’d recommend is limiting the amount of antibiotics you consume. By doing this, at least you’re limiting the chances of making yourself immune to antibiotics. Unfortunately, doing this can be expensive and a little time-consuming, but it may well be worth it.
One of the places to start is by eating organic food and food farmed without the use of added antibiotics. This way you can do your best to avoid consuming foods that have been treated with antibiotics.
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However, it’s also important to remember that there may be traces of antibiotics in meat advertised as “antibiotic free.” These trace amounts can come from the groundwater the animals might drink or their genetics. For example, if they or the feed they are given came from a family where their genetics were altered somewhere down the line, it can carry forward.
You can also filter your tap water or drink bottled, purified water.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Laxminarayan, R., et al., “Antibiotic resistance—the need for global solutions,”The Lancet December 2013; 13(12): 1057–1098.
Ganguly, N., et al., “Rationalizing Antibiotic Use to Limit Antibiotic Resistance in India,” Indian J. Med. Res. September 2011; 134: 281294.
Van Boeckel, T., et al., “Global antibiotic consumption 2000-2010: an analysis of pharmaceutical sales data,” The Lancet August 2014; 14(8): 742–750.
Chuanwu, X., et al., “Prevalence of antibiotic resistance in drinking water treatment and distribution systems,” Appl. Environ. Microbiol. September 2009; 75(17): 5714–5718.
Harris, G., “‘Superbugs’ Kill India’s Babies and Pose an Overseas Threat,” The New York Times web site, December 3, 2014; http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/04/world/asia/superbugs-kill-indias-babies-and-pose-an-overseas-threat.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=fb-nytimes&bicmst=1409232722000&bicmet=1419773522000&smtyp=aut&bicmp=AD&bicmlukp=WT.mc_id&_r=0.