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Which common illnesses are often wrongly treated with antibiotics?

A series of mostly viral infections are incorrectly treated with antibiotics:

  • common cold – it comes with sneezing, running or stuffy nose, cough, and sore throat. In most cases it is caused by rhinoviruses and antibiotics won’t work (CDC);
  • sore throat – smoking, allergies, the viruses that cause colds or flu, or a bacteria group called A Streptococcus (i.e., Streptococcus pyogenes) are among the causes of this type of illness. Only the infection caused by Streptococcus needs antibiotic therapy, the rest do not(CDC);
  • flu (Influenza) – is caused by influenza viruses and can infect the nose, throat and the lungs sometimes. Common symptoms include: fever and/or chills, cough, sore throat, running or stuffy nose, headaches, tiredness, muscle and/or body pains. Antibiotic therapy is not needed (CDC);
  • acute bronchitis or chest cold – this disease is manifested by cough due to the mucus produced in the lungs by the swelling of the lungs’ airways. Besides coughing (with or without mucus), you can also feel soreness in the chest, tiredness (fatigue), mild headache, mild body aches or sore throat. In most cases it is a viral infection whose recovery takes up to three weeks (CDC).

Why are there so few new antibiotics being produced?

Developing a new antibiotic is time consuming, costly and, most of all, not guaranteed to succeed. As such, it is a risky endeavour for pharmaceutical companies to partake in. Furthermore, with AMR on the rise, newly developed antibiotics should be preserved except for when absolutely needed. Because of these constraints, the market for them is shrinking. All of this makes the development of new antibiotics unattractive for the private sector.

A number of companies are producing antibiotics (IFPMA, 2015) (Access to Medicine Foundation, 2018), but many of these are only variations on existing antibiotics. Such ventures are a safer bet for companies to invest in because less research is needed and approvals are faster due to similarities to existing approved drugs. However, these slightly modified antibiotics only overcome resistance for a short period of time.

If AMR has already been an emerging issue for a long time, why are governments taking so long to act?

There are a number of reasons why governments are slow to react to AMR. For one, AMR is a very complex issue due to its global and multisectoral nature and simple national policy cannot have a strong effect on it. Furthermore, even if there is political will, the public has yet to seize the AMR issue wholeheartedly and demand concrete action from their governments. (Wellcome Trust Fund, 2019).

Why is it said that AMR is a “global and multisectoral issue”?

AMR is global: Indeed, with globalisation and the movement of people and animals across the globe, microbes that ‘hitch a ride’ can also spread globally. If resistant bacteria develop somewhere in Europe, Asia etc., they could very quickly be transported by a carrier (human, animal, food) to another continent. A Swiss study demonstrated that 75% of 38 tourists travelling to India returned home with antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their guts. In addition, 11% of tourists had bacteria resistant to the last-resort antibiotic colistin (Bernasconi O, et al. 2016).

AMR is a multisectoral issue: The causes of AMR have roots in a variety of sectors, including health, food safety, agriculture, environment, and trade, making it a truly multisectoral issue. If these sectors do not act on the threat of AMR, it will not be solved (WHO,2018). To this end, the WHO has proposed their “One Health” approach which is designed to facilitate communication and cooperation between all relevant sectors in order to implement programmes, policies, legislation, and research to combat AMR (WHO).

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