Noyes News and Events

October 27, 2017

Antibiotic Resistance Awareness

Alexander Fleming, a Scottish bacteriologist, discovered penicillin in 1928.  By the early 1940s, this antibiotic miracle drug was being used to fight off everything from blood infections to syphilis.    However, the miracle was short-lived.  According to the National Academy of Sciences penicillin-resistant, staph bacteria emerged as early as 1942.  Today, 75 years later, all Staphylococcus aureus are penicillin resistant.   This is the story of antibiotics and bacteria. As the World Health Organization (WHO) explains, antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria change and become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat the infections they cause. As a result, medicines become ineffective and infections persist in the body, increasing the risk of spread to others.  

Without effective antibiotics for prevention and treatment of infections, medical procedures such as organ transplantation, cancer chemotherapy, diabetes management and major surgery (for example, caesarean sections or hip replacements) become very high risk. A growing number of infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and gonorrhea are becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics used to treat them become less effective. Even the simple ear infection may require two to four courses of various antibiotics due to resistance. This problem is so widespread that the WHO and the CDC have called it a global threat.  Their concern is that today’s problem will be tomorrow’s crisis.  

To understand the scope of the problem, one needs to look at the numbers.  In India, 58,000 babies died in one year from super-resistant bacterial infections.  In the European Union, antibiotic resistance causes 25,000 deaths per year and 2.5 million extra hospital days.  In Thailand, antibiotic resistance causes over 38,000 per year and 3.2 million hospital days.  Moreover, in the United States antibiotic resistance causes 23,000 deaths per year and more than 2 million illnesses.  

The WHO lists the following six reasons as causes of antibiotic resistance:

  • Over-prescribing of antibiotics - The overuse and misuse of antibiotics is by far the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world.  Up to 50% of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not optimally effective as prescribed.  It is estimated that more than half of antibiotics are unnecessarily prescribed to children for cough and cold illnesses, most of which are caused by viruses.

  • Patients not finishing their treatment

  • Over-use of antibiotics in livestock and fish farming - Antibiotics are commonly used for promoting growth in food animals.  Animals develop resistant bacteria in their guts.  The drug-resistant bacteria can remain on meat from animals.  When not handled or cooked properly, the bacteria spreads to humans.  

  • Poor infection control in hospitals and clinics

  • Lack of hygiene and poor sanitation

  • Lack of new antibiotics being developed

 

During November 13-19, the annual U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week will be observed.  The theme of the campaign, “Antibiotics:  Handle with Care,” reflects the overarching message that antibiotics are a precious resource and should be preserved.  In particular, antibiotics are not always the answer.  The CDC recommends that patients know the following before heading to the doctor’s office.

What can you do?

  1. Only use antibiotics when prescribed by a certified health professional

  2. Always take the full prescription, even if you feel better

  3. Never use left-over antibiotics

  4. Never share antibiotics with others

  5. Prevent infections by regularly washing your hands, avoiding close contact with sick people, practicing safer sex, and keeping your vaccinations up to date.

 

What to ask your physician?

  1. What is the best treatment?  Antibiotics are not needed for common illnesses like colds, most sore throats, the flu and even some ear infections.  These illnesses are often caused by viruses, which do not respond to antibiotics.  Sometimes the best treatment is symptom relief.

  2. Is this the right antibiotic for this infection?

It is important to use an antibiotic that is designed to fight the bacteria causing the specific illness.  Ask if the antibiotic prescribed, is the most “targeted” to treat the infection while causing the least side effects.

  1. What can I do to feel better?

Pain relievers, fever reducers, saline nasal spray or drops, warm compresses, liquids, and rest may be the best thing.  Ask your healthcare provider what symptom relief is best.

 

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health in Dansville, NY.  If you suggestions or questions, please contact her at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.