India health Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

India’s War on Antimicrobial Resistance

Antibiotics differ from almost every other class of drugs in one important and dangerous way: the more they are used, the less effective they become. For developing countries like India, where antibiotic resistance is growing as a result of over-prescription and misuse, it is only a matter of time before the bacteria win.

CHENNAI – Last year, a 30-year-old teacher suffering from a severe bloodstream infection arrived in my emergency room for treatment. The woman had been in and out of local clinics with a stubborn chest infection and fever, and by the time I examined her, she was receiving chemotherapy for blood cancer.

Instinctively, I treated her infection with an antibiotic from a group of drugs known as “carbapenems,” strong medicines commonly prescribed to people who are hospitalized. But after further tests I discovered that she was carrying a strain of bacteria that is resistant to most antibiotics in our therapeutic arsenal. There was no option but to treat her with drugs that I knew would be largely ineffective; she was lucky to recover.

Sadly, many patients are not so fortunate. Around the world, people are being admitted to hospitals with infections that do not respond to antibiotics, and relatively benign germs – like Klebsiella and E. coli – have become potent killers, shrugging off medicines that in the past easily contained them.

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