What does antibiotic resistance have to do with me?
GPs (general practitioners) as well as dentists, gynaecologists, dermatologists and many other specialists use antibiotic drugs for a wide range of bacterial infections, from less serious urinary tract infections to potentially life-threatening conditions such as pneumonia, meningitis or bacterial septicaemia. Anyone can catch an infection, which can be picked up during everyday life or in a hospital or healthcare facility. Infections can also appear after an accident or as a complication of a non-infectious disease.
Around one-third of all hospitalised patients in Switzerland receive antibiotics. This is necessary to prevent or treat infections linked to surgery or to complications of the disease for which the patient was initially hospitalised. Antibiotics are also frequently used to prevent infections in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. They enable organ transplants and treatments with immunosuppressants to provide relief in certain auto-immune conditions (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis or Crohn’s disease). They can also help treat complications of common conditions such as foot ulcers caused by diabetes.
According to new estimates, almost 1.3 million people around the world die each year from infections with resistant bacteria. On the basis of model calculations, the number of deaths in Switzerland is estimated at 300 per year, while this figure is 133,000 in Europe (WHO European Region).
Infections due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria are among the most difficult to treat, and in rare cases they are not treatable at all, which is why expressions such as ‘super-bugs’ have been bandied about. Some of these resistant bacteria – fortunately not all of them – are more virulent for the human body – this means they are more likely to cause serious disease.
Infections caused by resistant bacteria are associated with increased mortality and lower quality of life, because treatment is more difficult, often lasts longer, and is more expensive. To treat such resistant infections, it is often necessary to resort to other classes of antibiotics, which are more expensive and may have more side effects or may need to be injected directly into the bloodstream.
At the global level, the economic impact of antibiotic resistance on health costs has been estimated at several billion US dollars per year. The World Bank has calculated that the annual costs of antibiotic resistance are comparable with the losses sustained in the financial crisis of 2008.
The extensive clinical trials that are required before a new antibiotic can be authorised and prescribed to patients take around ten years and are very costly. This is why Switzerland supports international initiatives to develop new antibiotics such as GARDP and national antibiotic research programmes such as the National Center of Competence in Research AntiResist.
However, new antibiotics are not enough to halt the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Above all, antibiotics must be used properly – particularly newly developed ones. Experience shows that bacteria develop resistance only a few years after a new class of antibiotic hits the market.