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The number of bacteria resistant to antibiotics is increasing worldwide. It is impossible to prevent their movement across borders.  About 90 people die every year in Finland due to antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance has become one of the leading causes of death in the world.  

The mortality rates are already higher than, for example, with malaria. Around 1.2 million people die worldwide from antibiotic resistance every year, and according to experts, the number would already be 10 million in 2050.  

It is a “hidden pandemic” smouldering under the surface, the consequences of which will begin to be seen significantly after 10–20 years.

“It may be that our children no longer have enough effective antibiotics. We need to prepare for the situation now,” says Professor Pentti Huovinen from the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Turku.

Antibiotic resistance refers to a situation where a bacterium is able to resist the antibiotic intended for it, i.e. becomes resistant to it. In this case, the antibiotic in question can no longer be used to treat the infection caused by this bacterium. Due to antibiotic resistance, common infections, such as urinary tract infections or pneumonia, can become life-threatening.

In Finland and other Nordic countries, the situation of antibiotic resistance is better than in the rest of the world. About 90 people die every year in Finland due to antibiotic resistance.

“Even in Finland, the resistance situation is getting harder little by little. Although bacteria resistant to the broadest range of antibiotics are rarely found in our country, the number of individual discoveries last year was already higher than ever before,” says Anu Kantele , professor of infectious diseases and senior physician.

The greatest mortality caused by antibiotic resistance is in Africa and Asia. In Europe too, estimates of deaths caused by antibiotic resistance have multiplied in a few years.

In Europe, the worst situation is in Eastern and Southern Europe and the best in the Nordic countries. In 2019, an estimated 133,000 people died in Europe due to antibiotic resistance.

In Europe, the biggest causes of death caused by antibiotic resistance are blood poisoning, pneumonia and abdominal infections.

“A typical fast-spreading multi-resistant bacterium is intestinal coliform bacteria, which spreads especially in conditions of poor hygiene,” says Kantele.

Antibiotic- resistant bacteria travel from one country to another with travellers and food, among other things.

Resistant bacteria are also introduced into the human body via small particles of air pollution. In practice, it is impossible to protect against resistant bacteria. There are a huge number of situations in the environment where you are exposed to them.

“We are under constant bacterial bombardment. Although the situation is good now, it could be different in ten years,” says Professor Huovinen.

He has been studying antibiotic resistance for 40 years and has been in situations where it has been believed that an antibiotic has been found that does not cause resistance. However, no one has been found so far.

One significant reason for the increase in antibiotic resistance is the excessive use of antibiotics.

According to Huovinen, the situation in Finland is good, because we have the “Käypä hoito” recommendations for infectious diseases and infection control in hospitals works well.

“Each course of antibiotics changes the body’s normal bacteria. In connection with each course of antibiotics, you should consult with your doctor whether there is a real need for antibiotics and, if so, when it should be started. Many mild infections caused by bacteria are cured even without antibiotics,” says Huovinen.

For example, urinary tract infections can be caused by bacteria that cannot be treated at home. In this case, an intravenous antibiotic is needed. If this kind of bacteria spreads, hospitals will fill up quickly.

In Finland, the threat of antibiotic resistance has already been recognized at the end of the 1980s, when the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health started the Health for all by the year 2000 program, and a national microbial laboratory was established.

In Finland, information has been collected for 30 years about the most important pathogenic bacteria becoming resistant.   A nationwide monitoring network enables the fight against bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Hospital hygiene teams are able to prevent the spread of resistant bacteria to other patients by isolating patients with bacterial infections.

“Finland has perhaps the best system in the world in hospitals, and hopefully it will be adhered to the new welfare areas as well. The patient must be able to be isolated if he has an infectious disease caused by an easily contagious, resistant bacterium,” says Professor Pentti Huovinen.

Bacteria are tenacious. They have survived on Earth for 3.5 billion years and survived all disasters.

The use of antibiotics has increased since the 1950s. The use of antibiotics to promote the growth of production animals has also accelerated globally. In Europe, the use of antibiotics as growth promoters is prohibited.