Does it take a state of emergency before we take the threat of antibiotic resistance seriously?
Climate activist Greta Thunberg has said “Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people, to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic.”
I think Greta Thunberg is right — a certain degree of panic is necessary when one wants to highlight a danger that affects all of humanity. And that may very well be what is needed to realize what is at stake here. When it comes to antibiotic resistance, it can mean the difference between life and death, even when it comes to something as simple as an infected wound or a straightforward operation. The threat we face is grave: the possibility that antibiotics stop working altogether — in which case, we’ve set ourselves back an entire century, to a time when people died of common bacterial diseases such as pneumonia or surgical infections.
But what is the tipping point for antibiotic resistance? As of today, over 30,000 people in Europe have died due to infections related to antibiotic-resistant bacteria that we simply do not have a way to treat. By 2050, it’s estimated that 10 million people will have perished from antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to the UN and O'Neill, 2014.
The problem also exists in Sweden. In 2016, more than 15,500 cases of antibiotic resistance were reported in Sweden according to the national Public Health Agency. By 2030, that number is expected to double, and by 2050 it’s forecasted to reach as high as 70,000 cases — over four times what it is today. To put it simply: we have to reverse course and put an end to this trend. We need to act both here at home and in other parts of the world. This problem affects us all.
An important area here, and also one of my primary focuses, is how we use antibiotics in healthcare to treat us when we fall ill. In Sweden, antibiotics are prescribed by doctors: we provide guidelines to follow up and monitor the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This is a good start, but there is a dire need for better diagnostic tools so that we can make sure we’re using the right antibiotics and using them only when they’re needed. We want to determine whether the infection is being caused by viruses or bacteria, and if so which bacteria, before we begin antibiotic treatments. This is to avoid prescribing unnecessary antibiotics (which often happens in the case of viral infections that do not call for antibiotics). That said, it’s important to use the right antibiotics when it is necessary, to avoid the unnecessary spread of infection. But when we over-prescribe and use antibiotics erroneously, we risk contributing to the development of increasingly complex and complicated infections, ones that will require "heavier" treatment; it is this very phenomenon that is considered to be one of the main causes of the increased antibiotic resistance. The point is, then, to treat things immediately, correctly, and as early as possible.
The philosophy that I and Dynamic Code share is simple: test first, keep track, treat correctly and do so early. In doing so, we are able to reduce the total number who get infected. To this end we have developed our tests so that they also indicate any antibiotic resistances. For example, when we test for the common sexually transmitted disease Mycoplasma, we check for any resistances. In Sweden, 18 percent of mycoplasma infections demonstrate some resistance to common antibiotics; in Denmark that number is as high as 40 percent and in Norway it’s as much as 61 percent. With our simple at-home self-test, a doctor can immediately prescribe the right antibiotic for you when it is needed. It is especially important to identify the mycoplasma infections that are resistant to common antibiotics, for instance, so that they can be treated early to hopefully remove these antibiotic-resistant strains before they can spread to larger populations.
Dynamic Code does not want people to panic. Instead, we want to help you as a customer and patient get the very best care you can. The first step is to get the right diagnosis and then to receive the correct treatment. This way we can avoid unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions. It’s a responsibility we all must share.
Anne Kihlgren, founder and CEO of Dynamic Code