Antibiotic-resistant infections with a cross through them

How antibiotic resistance affects people with other health conditions

Colin Garner ANTRUK announcements, Learn more

Antibiotic-resistant infections are bacterial infections that do not respond to treatment with antibiotics. While any one of us could require antibiotics at some point in our life, some people rely on them due to other health conditions.

Antibiotic Research UK is dedicated to helping save the future of modern medicine by investing in the development of alternative treatments and finding new ways to keep our existing antibiotics working. With an estimated 10 million deaths per year from antibiotic-resistant infections by 2050, it’s a matter of pressing urgency. However, some people rely on antibiotics more than others. Below is just a small sample of the health conditions and procedures that can lead to a reliance on these medicines.

Cancer

Many people with cancer will undergo treatments such as chemotherapy, which kills cancer cells. Unfortunately, it can also destroy white blood cells. These cells are an important part of the body’s immune system and are responsible for fighting off infections. Radiotherapy, another treatment for cancer, can also affect white blood cells.  Surgery to remove cancer creates an infection risk both during the procedure but also due to the healing wound. If an infection goes untreated for long enough (for example, because no antibiotics work against it), it can cause sepsis and even death. Many cancer treatments are supplemented with antibiotics in order to help prevent infections from taking hold. If a patient then gets an infection, more antibiotics treat it.

Childbirth

While antibiotics during a Caesarean section or the recovery period are often part of the routine treatment plan, many women may also require them during natural childbirth. For example, those with the conditions listed above or the 25% of pregnant women that carry Group B Streptococcus bacteria. This bacteria may not cause them any harm in their day-to-day life, but if it enters the mother or baby’s body during childbirth it can cause a fatal infection.

Hip and knee replacements and other surgeries

Two of the most common surgeries in the UK are hip and knee replacements. These surgeries usually performed on older people who may have a weaker immune system. These operations also involve a hospital stay that exposes the patient to the risk of hospital-acquired infections. During healing, the wound is a possible entry for bacteria to get into the body and cause an infection. As a result, antibiotics are often routinely prescribed to people undergoing and recovering from their surgery. In fact, this can be true for most surgeries, including those for hernias, gallbladder removal and tonsillectomies (also very common operations).

Heart conditions

People with some heart conditions or treatments take antibiotics as prophylactic treatment before any procedure – even dental work. People with these conditions take antibiotics to stop them from getting an infection during the procedure. This is something that is usually avoided, as it can cause an increase in bacterial resistance to the medicine. In people with these conditions, the risk posed by an infection is greater than the risk posed by giving antibiotics before they are needed, so it is allowed. This means that these people all rely heavily on antibiotics working in order to be able to have simple procedures carried out without the risk of infection and sepsis.

Cystic fibrosis

More than 10,000 people in the UK have cystic fibrosis (CF). This is a genetic condition that affects the way cells move water and salt around. People with CF can experience a wide range of symptoms, including a build-up of thick, sticky mucus in their lungs. This creates the perfect environment for bacteria to grow, and it can be very difficult to eliminate these even with effective antibiotics.

Many people with CF take antibiotics every day. They also visit hospital several times a year for intravenous antibiotic treatment when they have a particularly bad infection. Sadly, this exposure to antibiotics can lead to resistant populations of bacteria. We cannot treat resistant bacteria with any of our existing antibiotics. These infections can cause severe damage to the lungs, significantly reducing quality of life. It can even prevent the person from having a life-saving double-lung transplant. This is also the reason that two people with CF can never meet each other in person.

Suppressed immune system

Many health condition affect the body’s immune systems. These include: lupus, HIV, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes and vasculitis. People with these conditions may rely more heavily on the use of antibiotics during treatment. This is even the case when undergoing simple procedures such as dental work.

How we are fighting antibiotic-resistant infections

Antibiotic Research UK understands the vital role of antibiotics in the lives of almost everyone alive in the UK. Even people who have never taken antibiotics can get antibiotic-resistant infections. Unfortunately, most of us will require such treatments at some point in our lives. We are investing in research to find non-antibiotic alternative treatments, so we can save these precious medicines for the most serious infections. We are also investigating antibiotic resistance breakers that overcome existing resistance and allow our antibiotics to work once again.

Alongside this vital research, we provide support to people who have been affected by antibiotic resistance, and help raise awareness and understanding of this issue. Each and every one of us has a role to play in overcoming this threat. Find out what you can do to help keep yourself, your loved ones and the rest of the world safe, or make a donation today to help us in our mission.