We repeatedly hear that antibiotics aren’t as effective as they once were. As a result of our overuse of antibiotics, bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant. Health professionals and scientists are consistently warning that we are approaching a time when bacteria could become resistant to all the antibiotics we have manufactured.
How do antibiotics work?
Antibiotics are medicines specifically designed to fight bacterial infections. They work by killing or preventing the growth of bacteria – therefore they are ineffective at treating viral infections. Before antibiotics were used in the mid-1930s, 30 per cent of all deaths were caused by bacterial infection.
What’s the problem with antibiotics?
While antibiotics are clever in that they initially kill off bacteria, in the long term, bacteria are smarter. When bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, it pressures them to come up with new ways of surviving. This ‘adapt or die’ reaction is called ‘selection pressure’. Bacteria may do this in a number of different ways, such as developing thicker membranes that repel the antibiotics.
What is the solution?
According to the World Health Organization, there are a number of measures that can be taken to prevent total antibiotic resistance. One major suggestion is for the global medical community to renew its efforts to develop blockbuster agents to combat these post-apocalyptic ‘superbugs’ we keep hearing about. Another suggestion is to develop strategies to help preserve the effectiveness of remaining antibiotics.
In the meantime, there are suggestions of how we can use antibiotics more responsibly. It’s recommended that we replace antibiotics with treatments that kill bacteria (or micro-organisms) but which aren’t actually antibiotics. These are called non-antibiotic bacteria killers.
Non-antibiotic bacteria killers
While antibiotics are usually taken orally or intravenously, non-antibiotic bacteria killers are typically applied topically, in the form of creams and ointments.
It should be noted that regular antibiotics are only toxic to the bacteria and not to the patient, while non-antibiotic bacteria killers can be toxic if ingested.
Some non-antibiotic bacteria killers include:
Research has found that medical-grade honey be can an effective topical antibiotic cream to stop infections developing around catheter sites of dialysis patients.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil has been proven to inhibit and kill bacteria. It’s even been found to be effective against bacteria that was previously antibiotic resistant.
Due to its acetic acid content, vinegar works topically to kill bacteria around an infection, specifically found in cases where patients receiving dialysis have developed difficult-to-treat catheter infections.
Mannose, a type of sugar similar to glucose, may be useful in treating urinary tract infections since it prevents bacteria from attaching to the cells of the urinary tract. It’s typically packaged as a nutritional supplement but it’s also found in many fruits and vegetables.
This simple salt, used in the 1990s to keep kidney dialysis patients infection-free, has now become one of the main strategies for preventing catheter-related bloodstream infections in dialysis patients. As noted by The Conversation this popularisation largely occurred through the efforts of non-commercial interests.
So, why aren’t we using these?
We need further studies that show more evidence into the proven effectiveness of non-antibiotic bacterial killers. This work is usually funded and undertaken by companies that benefit from patenting a product and placing in the mass market. Many non-antibiotic bacterial killers cannot be patented, therefore drug companies don’t really benefit.
When these studies do occur, they do so very slowly and with limited resources.
What can you do?
As individuals and a society as a whole, we should try to limit our use of antibiotics, substituting them with non-antibiotic bacterial killers, if these are found to be effective.
When considering whether non-antibiotic bacterial killers are right for you, always consult a doctor.
To read more about antibiotics, head over to theconversation.com.
What are your thoughts on the antibiotics situation? Have you ever tried a non-antibiotic bacterial killer that was effective?