The disease-causing bacteria are evolving at a galloping pace and winning the race for survival. In our war against disease, our arsenal consists mainly of antibiotics, but the drug-resistant bacteria (superbug) has emerged stronger, which is a serious threat to global health security. The most powerful antibiotics, which once saved lives of millions of people across the world, are ineffective today. Super bugs have the ability to cause severe infections for which there are no cures.
According to reports, over 58,000 newborns died in India last year—all victims of lethal drug-resistant infections.The emergence of superbug and drug-resistant bacteria is not a mystery. Antibiotics have been misused and abused for years. But given that there is lack of information and education as well as an absence of control, this is quite natural.
Antibiotics are available over the counter and misused for common cold and cough, diarrhoea and sore throat. A defence against bacterial infections, the drugs are ineffective against viruses or commonallergies.Antibiotics are also reaching one through the food chain.Nearly 80 per cent of these drugs are used by the meat industry, fed to cattle, chicken and other livestocks to help them grow well. The drug enters the human system through meat, milk, water and soil. In a survey across Delhi, over 40 per cent of the samples tested showed heavy antibiotic contamination. The threat could easily get out of hand and we could suddenly find ourselves back in the pre-pencillin days, helpless and vulnerable against the new crop of lethal superbugs.The solution could come from a most unexpected source. The lowly and much maligned cockroach.
The insect consumes and even thrives on the deadliest bacteria and pathogens.Doctors stumbled upon a cure almost 100 years ago. An asthma patient after drinking his afternoon cup of tea, noticed his condition significantly improved. This had never happened before. On investigating, a cockroach was found in the teapot. Many patients in the sanatorium benefited from the discovery. Today Blatta orientalis made from cockroaches is used by homoeopaths for bronchitis and asthma.
Researchers of the University of Nottingham have isolated nine molecules with antibiotic properties from the brain and nerve tissues of cockroaches. These are providing resistance to the superbugs and without any side-effects to the human body.Protein molecules from the cockroaches killed 90 per cent of the Ecoli and MRSA superbug without harming the human cells. These new age antibiotics could be available in five to 10 years.
Meanwhile, we can all help by managing the way we use antibiotics by not using it against common ailments, and completing the full dose of prescription even if one feels better. The use of antibiotics by the meat industry needs to be stopped. Drug-laced animal feed is banned in many countries. Sanitation, hygiene, proper disposal of hospital waste and keeping our water resources and supply clean have to be top priority. Antibiotics have been life savers, but only proper use can help keep them potent against infections and diseases. Next time you see a cockroach scampering across the floor, don’t flatten it. It is a living antibiotic factory.
Pandey is a documentary filmmaker on wildlife and environment