10 Ways the World Would Change Without Antibiotics
By Robert Grimminck, Toptenz, 3 November 2016.
By Robert Grimminck, Toptenz, 3 November 2016.
The first antibiotic, penicillin, was discovered in 1928 by Sir Alexander Fleming. They’re used to fight bacterial diseases and infections. The problem is that they are overprescribed and often prescribed to fight viruses, like the common cold and influenza, despite the fact that antibiotics aren’t effective against viruses.
Due to this overprescribing, and other factors, bacteria are starting to get stronger and more resistant against antibiotics. The problem is scientists haven’t been able to find enough new antibiotics to battle the drug resistant bacteria and sadly, humankind is quickly running out of time before all antibiotics are useless. What is really terrifying about this situation is that unless something is done quickly, this isn’t a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.
Currently, we are already seeing the effects of antibiotics losing their effectiveness with the rise of the superbug which is antibiotic resistant infections.
The question is, what would the world look like if all antibiotics stopped working tomorrow? (Spoiler alert: It’s not good)
10. Couldn’t Treat Infectious Disease
Easily, the biggest problem with antibiotics losing their effectiveness, which ultimately affects the rest of the items on this list, is that we wouldn’t be able to treat bacterial infections and diseases.
For example, one of the deadliest diseases that antibiotics fight is pneumonia. Before the discovery of penicillin, 30 percent of pneumonia cases were fatal; whereas today, it’s only 5 percent for mild pneumonia.
Other common diseases that are cured and treated by antibiotics include meningitis, tuberculosis, Lyme disease, Strep throat, staph infections, and ear infections, just to name a few. While not all of these are deadly, without treatment, they can have long lasting or permanent effects on someone.
Also, with antibiotics, people are usually better within days or weeks or taking them. However, without them, it will take people much longer to get healthy again.
9. Tattoos Will Become Less Popular
Tattoos are pretty common in contemporary society, but without antibiotics, their popularity is going to diminish quickly. While most of the time tattoos don’t get infected, there is always a chance that an infection could happen.
When infections do develop after a person gets a tattoo, antibiotics are how they are treated. So if tattoos came with a greater risk of getting an incurable infection, it might dissuade people from getting them because tattoo infections are awful. If you don’t believe us, please feel free to Google “tattoo infections,” but we hope you take our word for it when we say they look painful and disgusting.
What’s going to be a dilemma for people who get infections is that they will either have to live with it, if they can, or their limbs will have to be amputated and then they will have to hope that the stump doesn’t get infected. So, what we’re saying is that you probably don’t want to tattoo your face or chest in a world without antibiotics.
8. Rates of Cosmetic Surgery Will Decrease
Without antibiotics, cosmetic surgery, like breast enhancement surgery, will be a very risky procedure to undergo because infections are common after them. For example, after a breast enhancement surgery, 2-4 percent of women get infections. This happens despite the fact that the patient is given an antibiotic shot before the surgery, an antibiotic solution after the surgery, and then the patient has to take antibiotic pills for a week or two. Antibiotics are just not used in breast enhancement, they are common in most types of cosmetic surgery.
This is one where we hope that the amount of procedures will decrease, because hopefully people aren’t so vain that they’d risk an incurable infection to artificially alter their looks.
7. Most People Will Have to Become Vegan
A major problem is that humans aren’t the only ones who use and rely on antibiotics. 15 to 17 million pounds of antibiotics are used on livestock every year in America. They are used because animals for food production are often housed in close quarters and an infection could be devastating in those types of conditions. So the livestock is often given antibiotics as a preventative measure. It also makes the livestock gain 3 percent more weight, which means there is more meat per animal, ultimately making meat products less expensive. However, without antibiotics, there would be fewer animals and they would be smaller. This would make meat harder to get and much more expensive.
However, cost and access aren’t the biggest problem when it comes to antibiotics and food production. Without antibiotics, the livestock could get bacterial diseases, like salmonella, which can be passed on to humans from eating infected animal meat. So not only will meat be rarer and more expensive, it will also be much more dangerous to eat.
The lack of meat won’t lead to worldwide starvation, but there would be an immediate strain on non-meat food production and there will be food shortages in many places when it first happens. However, in the long term, more people will have to switch over to veganism, because plants will be the safest food to eat. So hopefully you like chickpeas and tofu!
6. Cancer Treatment Would Stop
In a world where antibiotics are no longer useful, cancer will be a much more serious problem.
Three of the most common ways to treat cancer are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. The problem is that all of these treatments can often lead to infections. For example, any incision on the skin could lead to an infection, while chemotherapy and radiotherapy decreases the amount of white blood cells, leading to an increased chance of infection. In order to prevent an infection, or treat one if it develops, antibiotics are often given before, during and after cancer treatments.
Sadly, without a way to battle these infections, people who get cancer will be given the choice of not seeking traditional treatment or get the treatment and face the very serious risk of getting an incurable infection.
5. No More Major Surgery or Organ Transplants
Without antibiotics, many surgeries, especially open cavity surgeries, wouldn’t be worth the risk. This means that lifesaving procedures like heart surgery will become a thing of the past.
Transplants of any kind will also be impossible and anyone who has received a transplant will have it fail without antibiotics. The reason that transplants won’t work in a post-antibiotic world is because the immune system wants to attack the transplant. So a person with a transplant needs to take antibiotics for the rest of their life, or their body will reject their transplant.
The inability to perform safe surgeries and transplants will send a ripple effect through the medical world and many diseases that are treated and/or cured by surgery or transplants will be much more dangerous.
4. Accidents Could be Death Sentences
The human body is pretty resilient, but it is no match for bacteria and the infections it causes. For example, you can get a horrible infection from something as tame as a bite from a domestic house cat. While the infection happens because a cat’s mouth is full of bacteria, infections also happen to cuts and abrasions that aren’t caused by animal bites. If you have a large cut, or multiple cuts, it leads to a greater chance of infection. This means, that in a world without any antibiotics, serious accidents such as car crashes, workplace accidents, injuries due to crime, and any other injuries that are serious or life threatening with antibiotics would be nearly fatal all the time without them. If they don’t die from their injuries, the infection will kill them later.
Of course, this will have far reaching consequences, like road laws will change, and safety precautions will become much stricter. Children will also be severely restricted because common everyday childhood accidents, like playground equipment accidents or a fall from a tree could be deadly.
3. Condom Sales Will Skyrocket
If you are looking for a business to invest in for the post-antibiotic world, we don’t recommend tattoo parlors or cosmetic surgery offices, but we do recommend investing in condom companies. That’s because some sexually transmitted diseases that are curable today by antibiotics are going to become more serious and deadly without them. Just some of the STDs that are treated with antibiotics are gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia. However, without antibiotics, these diseases would stay with the infected for the rest of their lives, like herpes and HIV/AIDs, and they could potentially shorten their lives.
In fact, there is already an antibiotic resistant gonorrhea called HO41. It was first discovered in 2011, in the blood of a Japanese sex worker who was screened in 2009. The executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors said that HO41 could be more dangerous than AIDs. Someone who catches an advanced strain of HO41 could go into septic shock and die within days. However, there have been no reported deaths from HO41 yet.
As for the other sexually transmitted diseases treated by antibiotics, they have long term effects if they go untreated. If syphilis isn’t treated, then decades later, the infected could suffer paralysis, dementia, and death. As for Chlamydia, left untreated, it can wreak havoc on a woman’s reproduction organs and make her infertile.
Without antibiotics, these diseases won’t be cured, which means more people are likely to be infected with the superbugs. So hopefully as the risk goes up, the rates of condom use will go up as well.
Of course, condoms just aren’t used to prevent STDs, it’s also used to prevent pregnancy. This will contribute to the sales of condoms, because women may be less likely to get pregnant, because…
2. Child Birth Will Become Much More Dangerous
Before penicillin was discovered, 500 out of every 100,000 women died as a result of childbirth. Which may not sound like a lot, but in 2015 in the United States, the maternal mortality rate was 12 deaths for every 100,000 births. That’s a huge jump.
Due to the increase of danger when it comes to child delivery, it would be understandable if women chose not to have children, or have fewer children. This would decrease birth rates, and the death rate will increase among women. As a result, the population growth will drop dramatically as well.
1. Economic Collapse
As you probably realized, not having antibiotics is going to have a massive impact on humans. It’s even going to severely impact those who don’t get sick because the economy will collapse and millions of people will go into poverty. According to the World Bank, just based on the rise of the superbugs, 28 million people will fall into poverty. The GDP of the world could drop by 3.4 percent; which is on par as the 2008 financial crisis. This is pretty bad news, but we want to point out these projections are not based on the elimination of antibiotics, instead, they are just based on the economic effect of the superbugs. Without antibiotics, the economy is going to be much worse.
Why mass sickness is so devastating to the economy is that there will be less people working and contributing to the economy. Instead, people will be on long medical leaves, either at home or at a hospital. The millions of people who will be sick will also add an incredible amount of stress that will to the healthcare system, which is already fairly expensive. Essentially, there will be less people contributing to the system, but so many more taking from it. Obviously, that can only last for so long and economies around the world will crumble.
Unfortunately, hospitals around the world are already dealing with superbugs. In Canada, one in every 12 adult patients is infected with a superbug. In the U.S., every year, 2 million people are diagnosed with an antibiotic resistant infection, leading to 23,000 deaths.
Health care professionals say that this is just the beginning and by 2050, superbugs will kill more people than cancer.
Top image credit: Naille tairov/Wikimedia Commons.
[Source: Toptenz. Edited. Top image added.]