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Why India Is A Hotbed Of Antibiotic Resistance And Sweden Is Not


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It's our own fault.

In the U.S., Japan, Korea and elsewhere, we use antibiotics too much. We use them to treat coughs and colds — for which they're ineffective. We've used them in animal feed in an attempt to prevent disease and to fatten cows and chickens. And the more we use antibiotics, the greater the likelihood that clever bacteria will evolve in ways that resist the attack of antibiotics. So once-treatable infections become difficult or impossible to cure.

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Antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, hitching on trains, planes and ships, have made their way from wealthy countries to poor countries, and back again. "It's like climate change," says Laxminarayan. "We're all at risk."

So why not just keep seeking and developing new antibiotics? In the race between new drug development and bacteria that evolve to outsmart even the latest last-resort drug, the bacteria will eventually win, says Laxminarayan. That's because the bugs evolve to develop resistance to new drugs faster than science can make them.

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It's difficult for people to slow down their use of medications that, rightfully, have been considered wonder drugs. A 2012 survey by the Pew Health Group, for example, found that 36 percent of people surveyed in the United States mistakenly believed that antibiotics were effective in treating colds. And 41 percent of those surveyed said they had heard only a little, or nothing at all, about antibiotic resistance.

But inappropriate use of antibiotics allows greater and greater numbers of bacteria to inherit genes resistant to particular antibiotics — and some bacteria are resistant to every such drug in the medical arsenal. "We wipe out the bacteria that aren't resistant, and we're left with the ones that survive," says Laxminarayan.

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