10 Reasons to Worry About Antibiotic Resistance

10 reasons to worry -- and what you can do to help fight -- the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections.

Food & farming

Anya Vanecek

We rely on antibiotics to treat infections, perform surgeries, and more, but they’re losing their effectiveness. Today, we stand on the brink of the post-antibiotic era, where our critical medicines are powerless against the bacteria that have adapted to resist them.

The “superbugs” are smart – as they are exposed, they can naturally become resistant to antibiotics. By overusing and misusing the medicines, we’re speeding up the process. The situation is already bad, with 23,000 Americans dying every year from resistant infections, and it will only get worse if we don’t take urgent action.

Here are ten reasons to start worrying – and taking action:

1. No antibiotics mean 1930s style healthcare.

Losing antibiotics would effectively send up back to the 1930s, when now-minor infections could be fatal. Before antibiotics, a cut could fester and spread infection; epidemics of illnesses like pneumonia killed thousands; one in five pregnant women died in childbirth. As Kevin Judice, founder of anti-invective biotechnology company Cidara, put it, “The post-antibiotic-era is going to suck.”

2. The post-antibiotic era is already here

Years ago, the World Health Organization began warning about the ‘post antibiotic era’ – a time when drug resistance prevails, and antibiotics are no longer effective. The reality is, for many people, that era is already here. According to the CDC, 23,000 people already die every year in the USA from drug-resistant infections.

Some have already reached epidemic proportions. One such illness, MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphyloccocus aureus – staph infections), has cost hundreds of thousands of American lives. So bad is the issue that MRSA activism groups have established and called for the issue to “immediately become a top political priority.”

3. There may be no new medicines.

It has been quite some time since a new class of antibiotics has hit the pharmacy. Even if there were, discovering more medicines without changing the way we use them won’t last long. Antibiotics are delicate by nature: new drugs could become ineffective just as easily as their predecessors. Experts agree that more responsible use is among the most important means by which to save antibiotics.

4. Our greatest medical advancements: impossible

Organ transplants and major surgeries are just two miracles of modern medicine that rely on antibiotics to succeed. Not only do antibiotics make possible life-saving surgeries, they also allow parents to let their children climb trees without worrying that a scraped knee could turn into a blood infection. Antibiotics are the reason broken bones are rarely fatal, and ear infections rarely cause deafness.

5. No surgeries

None of us want to think about getting ill or having a serious operation but we all understand that surgery can save lives. But complex surgery brings with it the risk of infection. Take heart bypass operations or joint replacements for instance – if we don’t have antibiotics these procedures designed to help people and ease suffering could actually lead to many more deaths caused by bacterial infections.

Such procedures are prone to infection both because of the operation and after the fact, when patients receive immune-suppressing drugs. Suppressing the immune system ensures the body won’t attack itself, but also makes a patient more prone to bacterial infections. Antibiotics are critical to improving patient survival rates for these critical procedures and operations; without them, “live-saving surgery” could be as deadly as no treatment at all.

6.No cancer chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is an important weapon in the fight against cancer, and antibiotics are critical to its success. In its pursuit of cancerous cells, chemotherapy also destroys our white blood cells, which we need to fight off infection. Without antibiotics, cancer treatments could make patients particularly vulnerable to additional illnesses.

7. Sometimes, antibiotics are all we have
Sepsis is a common and potentially life-threatening condition triggered by an infection. The most recent CDC numbers put the total number of sepsis cases at 1.1 million in 2008. Antibiotics, administered quickly, is the best way to treat sepsis and keep it from turning fatal.

8. It costs us billions.

Hundreds of thousands of illnesses come with some substantial financial implications: up to $20 billion annually in care and another $35 billion in lost productivity. As antibiotic-resistant bacteria grows and spreads, so too will the impacts on our own productivity and national economy.

9. It is your problem

Antibiotic resistance is often called a “global problem” – but it’s also a personal one. Not only is everyone – men, women, children; rich and poor; old and young – at risk of infection, and everyone impacted by antibiotic-resistance effect on the economy; everyone can also be part of the solution.

10. If you don’t act, neither will one of the biggest contributors to the problem.

Just this week, the Wall St Journal made a pretty bleak assessment: “Beef’s Meaty Profits May Slow Effort to Boost Antibiotic-Free Production.” But the practices that make for good business for mainstream meat producers are bad business for the rest of us. The routine use of antibiotics in factory farming, often on animals that aren’t sick, is a blatant contributor to the problem: feeding animals regular, low doses of antibiotics exposes and allows bugs to develop resistance to those medicines. But meat producers aren’t eager to change.

That’s where you come in. Consumers have the power to push the industry to change by supporting the producers who raise their meat with more responsible antibiotics use. Some, particularly among the nation’s top chicken producers, are leading the way, but the fact remains that antibiotics overuse in farming remains too prevalent. It’s up to us to change that, by encouraging meat producers that continuing dangerous practices is no longer worth their while.


Let’s start with something easy: Help us push major chain restaurants to commit to serving meat raised without routine antibiotics.

We also have a number of resources to help you shop for meat raised without routine antibiotics. Check out our antibiotic-free meat buying guide. Not in the mood to cook? We also have an antibiotic-free restaurant guide.

Now that you know about antibiotic resistance and what you can do to help fight it, make sure your friends know, too. Share this blog on Facebook and Twitter — and don’t forget to follow us so you can stay up-to-date on our latest opportunity to take action to save antibiotics!


Anya Vanecek