Antibiotics given for free in Florida Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Pour des antibiotiques qui fonctionnent

MEXICO – Grâce à la découverte de la pénicilline en 1928, et à l'introduction des plus récentes familles d'antibiotiques majeures dans les années 1960, la capacité de l'être humain à combattre les bactéries pathogènes a profondément évolué. Au fil des années, le nombre d'antibiotiques auxquels les bactéries sont sensibles a néanmoins diminué, et certains pathogènes sont devenus résistants à la plupart voire à l'ensemble des médicaments existants. C'est ainsi que des infections autrefois traitables redeviennent aujourd'hui mortelles.

D'après les estimations, la résistance aux antibiotiques conduirait d'ores et déjà à 700 000 décès chaque année, pour un coût financier de plusieurs dizaines de milliards de dollars. Et à l'heure où la résistance aux antibiotiques ne cesse d'affecter notre capacité à traiter les cancers, ainsi qu'à procéder à des transplantations d'organes et implantations de prothèses, ce chiffre est voué à augmenter.

De nombreux facteurs contribuent à cette résistance croissante aux antibiotiques. Les bactéries sont capables de se reproduire et de muter rapidement, ainsi que d'établir une sorte d’ « Internet génétique » permettant à certaines bactéries pathogènes de « télécharger » des gènes résistants aux antibiotiques. En outre, la plupart des antibiotiques sont les produits naturels de bactéries présentes dans les sols, au sein desquels la résistance aux antibiotiques peut se produire tout aussi naturellement. Lorsque les antibiotiques produits par l'homme ont été introduits à grande échelle, ce sont les bactéries résistantes qui sont devenus dominantes.

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