Antibiotics are an important wonder-drug in the history of medicine. They can be life-savers but their misuse has far reaching and harmful effects in healthcare. One such chilling-effect is antibiotic resistance.
This quick guide shows how this affects you and also what you can do to help prevent antibiotic resistance.
The importantce of penicillin and other anitbiotics in preventing the spread of diseases, treating bacterial infections and minimizing serious complications of disease is hard to overstate.
The problem arises with the misuse and overuse of antibiotics. This inevitably leads to antibiotic resistance, a natural phenomenon that causes the antibacterial agent to be less effective. In other words, the disease causing bacteria become resistant to the drug.
It should be noted, antibiotics are not effective against viral infections. Examples of viral infections are:
- Many ear infections
- Most sore throats
- Most coughs and bronchitis ("chest colds")
- Many sinus infections
Q1. Why Should I Care About Antibiotic Resistance?
A: Imagine being sick in the hospital with a bacterial infection.Unfortunately your medical team aren't able to stop it from spreading because the bacteria has developed stronger resistance to the once effective antibiotic. Enter a term “superbug” coined by developed by the media. The term resonates because it's scary; you picture a bug that isn't easily killed by multiple antibiotics and ravages your body’s immune system. The often used medical term for this is "multi-drug resistant bacteria."
The growing resistance to antibiotics has been called one of the world's most urgent public health problems. Where once illnesses were once easily treatable by prescribed use of antibiotics,they've become dangerous infections. For instance, the drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis. The end result of prolonged suffering in both children and adults. It can cause everything from life-threating blood infections or sepsis to growth of harmful bacteria like C.diff.
Clostridium difficle (C.diff), a good bacterium found naturally in your gut usually do no harm. This is because the body maintains a balance of good bacteria to keep it from happening. But oversuse of antibiotics can throw this balance askew, causing C.diff infections. C.diff can cause life-threatening diarrhea killing around 14,000 people a year, mostly among elderly Americans. However particles of the bacteria can be left behind in bathrooms, clothing or on linens. This provides a medium for spreading from person to person. In the past, fluoroquinolones were the go to antibiotic for C.diff but nowadays they don't always work. This lead to a 400% spike in deaths from 2000-2007. The spike marked the appearance of a new drug-resistance strain of C.diff.
If you consider the pivotal role that antibiotics play in modern general medicine, it becomes apparent how important it is to prevent antibiotic resistance
Everything from surgeries, childbirth, chemotherapy to organ transplants have antibiotics and treatments for diseases like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) as their foundation.
Common excuses and how to fix them:
Q2: But My Doctor Prescribed The Same Antibiotic Last Time I Felt Like This...
With instant access to a wealth of medical information online, many of us do our own research and self-diagnose with whatever disease we conclude we have. We then go ahead and buy a self-prescribed medication online. Often this is driven by the need for quick relief from whatever ails us, which is normal, regardless of the cause of illness. People may take antibiotics that are leftover from a previous prescription we may have had. Or worse, share our prescriptions with other’s which can be dangerous.
Other reasons for overuse are:
- Antibiotics purchased abroad or via the internet for a self diagnosed illness
- Doctors may prescribe antibiotics before getting test results back that identify the actualy cause of infection
Q3: Antibiotics: Best Uses To Proetct You and Your Community
A: As with most kinds of preventative measures, it starts with you. Here's what you can do to help prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance:
- Don't take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or the flu (get a flu shot instead)
- If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic medication, take it exactly as directed.
- Don't be afraid to ask your doctor if there are other steps you can take to feel better without use of antibiotics
- Discard any left over medications: Almost all medicines may be disposed of in the flush but consumers should take precautions when discarding the medications. This list by the FDA (PDF) details medications that are safe to flush down the toilet. You can also find safe disposal information on the leaflets of your medication
- Ask your healthcare professional about any vaccines recommended for you or your family to prevent infections that may require use of antibiotics
- Practice good hygeine. Washing your hands regularly with soap and water helps prevent spreading or getting infection (especially when you consider that we touch our faces an average of 16 times an hour!). Even more still, many of us have smartphones which unfortunetly we use in the bathroom, think of how easily you could be carrying and spreading bacteria life C.diff to your hands and eventually your face when you do this.
- Never take antibiotic that is prescribed for someone else
Care When Using Other Products That Contain Antibacterial Agents
Nowadays, it's common to find antibiotics in food, cleaning products, stationary or personal products. Inappropriate or not, this contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance. Most recently, Subway Restaurant joined some other major fast-food chains in ending use of animal product raised with antibiotics in their food items. This is because once the bacteria in animals build up resistance to the antibiotics farmers use, it becomes a public health issue that can spread rapidly.
How Are The Medical Community Combating The Raise In Antibiotic Resistance?
The loss of effective antibiotic treatment obviously has medical community on high alert. If the ability to fight infection is lost, the ability to offer everyone many life-saving and life improving modern medical advantages will bet lost with it. These include complex surgery, cancer chemotherapy, dialysis for end-stage kidney disease, organ and marrow transplants. To fight this, the medical community are focusing on four core actions to prevent antibiotic resistance.
- Tracking Resistance - The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) gathers data on antibiotic resistance, causes of infections and likely risk factors
- Improving Prescribing/ Stewardship of Antibiotics - Up to half of antibiotic use in humans and in animals is inappropriate and unnecessary which makes everyone less safe. By limiting to antibiotic use only to times when they are needed, we can greatly slow the pace of resistance.
- Preventing infections - Avoiding infections not only prevents the spread of resistance, it directly reduces the amount of antibiotics that are in use. There are many ways to this this including washing hands with soap, safe food preparation, and using antibiotics as directed and only when necessary.
- Developing new diagnostic tests and new antibiotics - Because the evolution is a natural occurrence in bacteria, antibiotic resistance is a natural part of their cycle. It can be slowed but not stopped. That’s why we are always playing catch up with the development of new drugs to keep up with antibiotic resistance bacteria.
There is a compelling and growing body of evidence documenting the spread of antibiotic resistance and methods to prevent it. Infectious disease physicians, public health experts and others are rightly concerned. We all have a part to play as well because it directly affects our health wellness. Practicing proper hygiene and use of antibiotic medications makes us safer and also reduces our medical costs. While antimicrobial stewardship will require investment, the alternative is far more costly. While antibiotic resistance is a natural progression, poor usage and over-prescribing will ramp up resistance.
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- Khan Academy
- CDC: Antibiotic Stewardship
- 15 Superbugs And Other Scary Diseases
- FDA: Medications Safe To Flush