Daily Archives: February 5, 2010

Solving the antibiotic resistance problem

Many people take antibiotics, in fact it is hard to understand how people ever managed without them. The trouble is, some people don’t finish the full course they have been prescribed, but stop taking them once their symptoms have gone. The few bacteria left are likely to be the ones most resistant to the antibiotic, and they will be the ones that go on to breed. Occasionally a highly resistant strain of bacteria results, and an antibiotic then  becomes useless in cases associated with that strain. Today, we have some diseases caused by bacteria that are resistant to almost all of our antibiotics.

I’m not sure whether this has already been tried, and I am already sick of googling today, but one approach must surely be to chemically tag each capsule in a prescription. At the end of a course, a patient might be forced to provide a blood sample, which could then be checked for the presence of each of the chemicals. This could be a precondition of the prescription. If a patient is found not to have taken the full course, they could be kept under supervision while they take a full course, imprisoned if need be. Or perhaps a heavy fine would suffice. It sounds a bit heavy handed of course, and only appropriate where the consequences justify it, but the creation of another resistant strain would affect very many people, and in some cases, people would die. When someone puts others’ lives at risk through their own selfishness or stupidity, then it is appropriate to be heavy handed.

I have no means of calculating the precise figures, but millions of lives have been saved by antibiotics in the past.  Millions in the future could die because of the actions of a few thousand today, so this is a problem we should take seriously, at least until we have the means to either design lots of new antibiotics or find other cures.