Antibiotics aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do anymore. You know, kill infections. Since Alexander Fleming invented penicillin 75 years ago, nearly all bacteria have mutated into strains impervious to antibiotics. Those souped up bacteria now kill hundreds of thousands of people, at a minimum, each year. And according to a new issue of medical journal The Lancet focused on antibiotic-resistant bacteria, things could soon get a whole lot scarier.
“Rarely has modern medicine faced such a grave threat. Without antibiotics, treatments for minor surgery to major transplants could become impossible…,” argue a team of UK medical experts in one article in a series on antibiotic resistance (paywall) in The Lancet. ”Infection-related mortality rates in developed countries might return to those of the early 20th century,” they say.
The reason antibiotics are no longer doing what they’re supposed to is mainly that they’re being given to the wrong patient. Instead of people with severe infections or risk of infection, the majority of antibiotics are consumed by animals and people who aren’t sick enough to justify their use.
Pigs, chickens, cows, fish and other animals consume the majority of the 100,000-200,000 tonnes (110,000-220,000 tons) of antibiotics manufactured each year, as farmers try to keep growing large and healthy animals under unsanitary conditions. The bacterial strains created in these conditions can spread to humans.