I get the occasional anxious phone call from clinicians concerned about the “rising rates ” of trimethoprim resistance to E. coli…
Not being entirely convinced, I did a (20 year) search for E. coli resistance to trimethoprim at my lab, analysing over 2 million isolates, and came up with the following graph.
I couldn’t work out how to insert a trendline into the graph (I am so useless…), but I think you will agree that it is going to be fairly flat.
The antibiotic apocalypse is not arriving in New Zealand anytime soon. In fact the whole concept of “antibiotic resistance” as perceived by the public is horribly generic and oversimplified…
This example above of course is just one microbe/antimicrobial combination out of many hundreds that could have been analysed, but the observation did highlight a couple of things to me:
- If antibiotic usage is relatively constant in a population over a prolonged period of time, then antimicrobial resistance does not necessarily rise inexorably. (q.e.d.)
- Always back your claims up with objective data wherever possible. It is the trends which are critical in the surveillance of antibiotic resistance. We are lucky that at my lab we can now search back through 20 years of electronic data. Before 1996 the data was paper based (and likely lost in a basement or incinerated by now!)
If you did a similar exercise for all the possible microbe/anti-microbial combinations (I just might if the Christmas holidays are quiet!), you will find some trends that are upwards, some that are static, and some where the resistance rate is trending downwards.
A bit like Twitter really….
So when someone says to you. “Antibiotic resistance is increasing all the time. In 10 years time, all infections will essentially be untreatable” (I really detest this type of generic, off the cuff, unsubstantiated statement…)
…you should respond with something along the lines of “Exactly which microbe and antimicrobial combination are you talking about?” and “Show me your data…”.
Some infections will be, and already are, untreatable (mostly due to extreme and focused selection pressure), but the chances of a whole bacterial species becoming pan-resistant are remote. There are two main reasons for this. i) Bacteria survive in open systems, and ii) Bacteria need to expend energy to become resistant.
But these are other stories altogether…