Guest Author - Deborah Watson-Novacek
Antibiotic resistance has become a world-wide health problem. Nearly all significant bacterial infections in the world are becoming resistant to commonly used antibiotics. The misuse of antibiotics helps create resistant microorganisms that can cause new and hard-to-treat infections.
WHAT IS ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE?
Antibiotic resistance occurs when a certain antibiotic is used for a long period of time or in situations where an illness is not the result of bacterial infection, and the bacteria eventually evolves to a point where the antibiotic is no longer an effective agent against it.
The problem of antibiotic resistance is of grave concern to scientists. There are already many infections today that are caused by bacteria now resistant to some or all antibiotics. If this trend continues, humans may soon find ourselves suffering and dying from diseases that were easily cured by antibiotics just a generation ago!
CAUSES OF ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE
1. Overuse of Antibiotics
The most common cause of antibiotic resistance is the overuse of antibiotics. If doctors prescribe antibiotics for such illnesses as colds or flu simply to meet patient demands, they are contributing to the problem. It is responsibility of both patient and doctor not to abuse these drugs.
2. Failure to Use Antibiotics Appropriately
It is important that antibiotics are taken as prescribed. Many patients will stop taking their antibiotics as soon as they start to feel better. If an antibiotic is stopped in midcourse, the bacteria may be partially treated and not completely killed, causing the bacteria to be resistant to the antibiotic. This can cause a serious problem if those now-resistant bacteria grow enough to cause a reinfection.
3. Use of Antibiotics in Animal Feed
Many public health experts and activists are pushing for tighter regulations to limit the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. It is estimated that approximately 80% of all antibiotics in the U.S. are given to food animals.
"The effectiveness of antibiotics for humans is jeopardized when they are used to fatten healthy pigs or speed the growth of chickens," said California Senator Dianne Feinstein. "This is a basic food safety initiative that would phase out the misuse of these drugs so that food in supermarkets across America will not spread strains of drug-resistant bacteria."
WHY SHOULD YOU WORRY ABOUT ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE?
There are many reasons why every individual should be concerned about the increase of antibiotic resistance. Here are just a few:
1. Longer Illnesses
Taking antibiotics that aren't strong enough to fight the bacteria that are making you sick can result in you being sick longer! The infection the medication is attempting to cure may become worse, and your physician may have to use several different antibiotics before finding one that will cure you. You may even have to be admitted to the hospital and given very strong antibiotics via IV!
2. Increased Risks to Family Members
If you develop and carry a strain of extra-resistant bacteria, you may pass these bacteria on to anybody you come into contact with! These people will then be subject to the problems noted in Item #1 above.
3. Increased Chance of Contracting a Resistant Illness
If you don't take the full course of antibiotics prescribed by your physician, or if you take antibiotics you don't need, the chances that you will sometime in the future contract an illness that is antibiotic resistant increases greatly.
EXAMPLES OF SERIOUS ANTIBIOTIC-RESISTANT ILLNESSES
An example of antibiotic resistance that has become dangerous to the public is the spread of MRSA, or Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureaus. The development of this resistant Staph infection now endangers the lives of thousands of people evey day. MRSA is no longer found only is hospitals, but is carried and passed person-to-person by people in the general community. People can fight this bacteria for years without being able to cure it, and it is now a common cause of death in people who have suffered other diseases which have compromised their immune systems.
There is now a strain of tuberculosis that is also highly resistant to treatment. People with this strain of TB have to be removed from the general population for extended periods of time while other drugs are used to try and eradicate the infection.
There is currently a strain of drug-resistant scarlet fever running rampant in Asia. In Hong Kong, a very modern city in terms of medical care, a strain of resistant scarlet fever has already infected more than 550 children this year - twice as many as in any of the past 10 years. Additionally, this disease has caused two fatalities this year - the first fatalities in the past decade.
It is also being reported that some 9,000 cases have been detected in mainland China, also about twice the normal rate there. Exact statistics are unavailable because China, like many countries, does not track this illness.
There has been a recent outbreak of a deadly strain of E. coli.This strain has been found to develop resistance to antibiotics after a very low-level exposure to any one of three common antibiotics. This deadly strain has now caused dozens of deaths and sickened thousands in Germany and across Europe.
HOW TO HELP COMBAT ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE
Taking the following steps can assist in protecting not only your health, but the health of your family and community:
1. Always ask your doctor if antibiotics are the best treatment.Don't take antibiotics unless you need them.
2. Avoid pressuring your doctor into prescribing antibiotics when they won't help you feel better or cure your illness. Ask your doctor what else you can do to feel better.
3. Do not use antibiotics that were prescribed for a different illness or for someone else. You may delay correct treatment and become sicker.
4. Protect yourself from illnesses. Keep your hands clean by washing them well with soap and warm water.
5. Get a flu shot and other vaccines when you need them.