Why penicillin and tetracycline antibiotics are no longer effective

Authorities have warned that antibiotics are no longer as effective in treating diseases among Kenyans due to overuse.

The ineffectiveness of penicillin and tetracycline has been blamed mainly on overuse and misuse, especially for treating viral diseases like colds and gastrointestinal infections.

“It is important to note that not all infections can be treated with antibiotics. For example, antibiotics don’t cure viruses like colds and flu,” reads a statement from the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) Directorate of Pharmacovigilance.

The two antibiotics were singled out during this year’s World Antibiotics Awareness Week held in November, and their reduced efficacy was not only a concern, but also exemplified the grim reality of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Respiratory infections

“There is increasing resistance to antibiotics worldwide. Unfortunately, Kenya is not spared in this. In Kenya, these are the most commonly used antibiotics for gastrointestinal and respiratory infections,” notes the statement.

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The reduced efficacy, as revealed by Charles Ochodo from the Ministry of Agriculture’s veterinary department, has also been as a result of the overuse of these two drugs in the rearing of animals for meat.

“They (penicillin and tetracycline) are almost useless in human beings. In the 60s, they were so effective as evidenced by the little time it took one to recover from infections,” Dr Ochodo said.

He added that the ministry is revising inspection laws to make it mandatory for meat to be inspected from time to time to find out if it contains antibiotics.

“We will also require to know where food dealers get their meat from and where they intend to sell it,” he said.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya boss, Daniella Munene, said as per drugs regulations, antibiotics fall under prescription-only medicine.

"It is sad to note that even with the resistance, so far we have no new antibiotics in the pipeline. Pharmaceutical companies have moved on to developing drugs for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like cancer as that is where the money is," said Dr Munene.

The PPB pharmacovigilance office, however, could not point out to The Standard which specific brands in the market of antibiotics containing penicillin and tetracycline have been found to have reduced potency.

“It is the active pharmaceutical ingredient or drug molecule that experiences bacterial resistance based on many factors. Therefore, the drug resistance will not be pointed at specific brands. Once drug resistance affects a particular drug molecule, this cuts across the several brands that contain the drug molecule,” reads the PPB statement.

Spreading resistance

The regulator further mentioned that the poor disposal of expired or unused antibiotics containing the two ingredients has also contributed to the resistance. Flushing them down the toilet or sink leads to environmental pollution, with sewage treatment systems unable to completely remove the active pharmaceutical ingredients in wastewater.

“In addition, antibiotics that are disposed of on land can be absorbed by ... crops, therefore, playing a role in drug resistance through consumption,” added the statement.

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antibioticspenicillintetracyclinePharmacy and Poisons Board