Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Antibiotics: Which Lives Matter?

By Angus Dawson

Resistance to antibiotics is growing. Are you prepared to go without them to save the lives of future generations?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Antibiotics are used to relieve the symptoms of disease and save human lives every day. They are one of the wonders of modern medicine and a key component of clinical care since the 1940s. However, there is growing consensus that we need to change the way we use them, and urgently. Why?

Antibiotics are increasingly ineffective for a number of reasons.

First, this is because of the nature of bacteria. When initially confronted by antibiotics, bacteria are killed. However, it is inescapable that those bacteria will develop resistance over time to the drugs designed to kill them. Bacteria reproduce and adapt quickly, and the strains that are resistant to a drug will be the ones that survive. Some projections into the future are terrifying: one suggestion is that 10 million lives per year could be lost by 2050 as a result of growing antibiotic resistance. We can develop new drugs, of course, but that cannot be the answer alone. New drugs will inevitably also encounter resistance.

Second, antibiotics are losing effectiveness due to human behaviour. Their power to reduce the burden of disease has resulted in overuse by humans. Antibiotics only work against bacteria, not viruses. Too often they have been prescribed even when doctors know they are unlikely to be beneficial. There is now, arguably, a culture of expectation from the public that they will...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.