Dr. Alastair Hay of Bristol University has recently published an article in the British Medical Journal drawing attention to the extensive misuse of antibiotics by the medical profession. Although the intensive livestock industry has been blamed for the emergence of drug-resistant organism in human medicine, the Hay analysis shifts attention to current policy on prescribing antibiotics. According to the findings of the study, many practitioners administer antibiotics for viral respiratory infections without scientific justification. Drug-resistant organisms are excreted for at least one month after a course of therapy and may persist for a year resulting in dissemination of resistant bacteria in the community. It is estimated that the cost of treating medical conditions caused by drug-resistant organisms is approaching $2 billion annually in both the U.S. and the EU.
In the report posted by Reuters, a research group dealing with health policy at the London School of Economics suggested that “financial incentives should be developed to find, test and develop new antibiotics in view of the rapid growth of antibiotic resistance.” This appears to be a paradoxical argument since if new antibiotics are developed to treat drug-resistant organisms, the medical profession, following current practice, would simply substitute the new drugs resulting in the loss of their effectiveness. There does not appear to be a mechanism for restraint other than educating both the medical profession and patients as to their respective responsibilities and expectations.
The outstanding value from the Hay study is that regulatory agencies may begin to focus on the real causes of drug-resistant organisms and nosocomial (hospital and medical facility) infections. In food animal production, there is a financial disincentive to use antibiotics coupled with rigid restraints over availability and prescription practices. There is no such deterrent in the medical profession since insurance or government agencies foot the bill for the unrealistic expectations of patients and the lack of prudence demonstrated by health providers.