Facts about Antibiotics

The Sophisticated Microbes


Tons of antibiotics used for livestock

Globally this year

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TheWorldCounts, 19 May, 2017

The Sophisticated Microbes

In our society we think of antibiotics as something that humans have invented. It's not. It was discovered by humans. Antibiotics have existed many many millions of years before we did. Microbes were competing for nutrients and thereby evolved sophisticated survival mechanisms. Antibiotics are natural chemicals developed as the competition for survival rose. They evolve as a result of mutations in the genome of microbes. Mutations take place all the time. In plants, fungi, animals, in humans and still in microbes. This is natural selection. A term we have called 'Evolution'. 

In 1928 the Scottish biologist, pharmacologist and botanist, Alexander Fleming, discovered an antibiotic from the mold Penicillin notatum. This was a major breakthrough in the history of science and medical treatment. When he received the Nobel prize in 1945 Fleming warned that bacteria could grow resistant to Penicillin. He was right.

This is very much what our societies experience today. When drug-resistant bacteria develop in industrial livestock facilities, they can reach the human population through food and the environment (i.e., water, soil, and air), or by direct contact between human and animal.

Modern” Antibiotics

Antimicrobial drugs covers a wide range of medicines. These drugs are medicines used to treat a variety of infections caused by bacteria (antibiotics), viruses (antivirals), fungi (antifungals) and parasites (antimalarials). This has made it possible to survive life threatening infectious diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. Also, antibiotics are widely used in surgical procedures antibiotics and in people receiving chemotherapy to avoid infections from opportunistic microbes.

So antibiotics have really contributed to our longer lives on this earth and thereby a higher population in the world. This might give other problems.

However, evolution still takes place. If we like it or not. Mutations in the microbes are un-going and so the microbes that survive exposure to a drug that would normally kill them, grow and spread due to lack of competition from other species. This has led to Anti-Microbal Resistance (AMR).

Recently AMR has become an increasing problem due to the overuse of antibiotics and other drugs which has increased the rate of resistance in the bacteria. Higher exposure to antibiotics increases the number of resistant bacteria as only the resistant strains will survive. Hence more and more bacteria inherit the resistance gene as they reproduce and spread since they have no competition from other strains that die from the drugs we so expose them to. So it is not humans that develop a resistance but the bacteria.

Our bodies are being boomed with drugs if we're not critical towards their use. It's quite 'normal' to get drugs over-the-counter without REALLY knowing what the effects are. We want a 'quick fix' and a solution now. Then we don't think of the LONG TERM effects for us and the planet.

Effects of AMR

Has a huge impact of the world's population. People might die from mild infections due to resistance to antibiotics. Also the risk of a simple surgery is higher if doctors can't treat antibiotic resistant patients. AMR levels have increased and will continue to increase most likely due to the overuse of antibiotics. 

The prolonged period of illness due to lack of surgery and treatment, might also reduce the labour force. This can harm the social structure. Increasing the difference between wealthy and poor. Between countries and within countries. Even more than today. Also local communities might be affected as the working force decreases. Furthermore, trading and cultural interactions may change.

MRSA in Conventional Farming

It's good that we can be treated in acute situations but bad if we use too many antibiotics without thinking "Do I REALLY need it?" We are being 'treated' with antibiotics for many things but our own immune system can help us many situations. So our bodies consume antibiotics. And it's not only the drugs you take but you also get leftovers of antibiotics from the meat and fish you eat.

Much focus is now on the pig-farming industry as more and more pigs in the conventional farming get the Methicillin Resistente Staphylococcus Aureus(MRSA) bacteria. This is mainly due to the overuse of antibiotics in the conventional piggeries.

In the farming industry it is common to use antibiotics both to treat and to prevent infections. This is done because industrial livestock live in poor conditions as the animals are confined, live so close together that their stress levels rise. These conditions inhibit the immune defense and the likelihood of infections developing and spreading are higher. So to compensate for the poor treatment of the animals they just get a symptomatic treatment. Not treating the root cause.

More Fresh Air is Always a Good Idea 

According to the Danish Food and Drug Administration 88% of the pigs in conventional piggeries carry the MRSA bacteria, whereas in the organic piggeries the percent is as low as 6%. Danish investigations now show that there is a way of getting rid of the bacteria. The bacteria might be air-born and hence if the pigs have access to fresh air they will reduce the risk of infections and the MRSA bacteria to spread. The main reason that so many of the conventional pigs have the MRSA bacteria is due to antibiotics in their food but if they had access to fresh air and more space the dust particles could be reduced. However, more investigations will be done in this area, researchers say.


1. http://www.sustainabletable.org/257/antibiotics

2. https://amr-review.org/sites/default/files/AMR%20Review%20Paper%20-%20Tackling%20a%20crisis%20for%20the%20health%20and%20wealth%20of%20nations_1.pdf

3. http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/527731474225046104...

4. https://ing.dk/artikel/konventionelle-grise-faar-op-til-20-gange-saa-meget-antibiotika-som oekologiske-171167

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