Misuse of antibiotics is a big contributor to the growing threat of so-called "superbugs"—bacterial infections that are difficult or impossible to treat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 million people develop such infections in the United States every year, resulting in about 23,000 deaths and more than $20 billion in excess health care costs.
Robin Patel, M.D., Chair of the Division of Clinical Microbiology and a Consultant in the Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Laboratories at Mayo Clinic, discusses how superbugs are made and how to help stop them in a recent article in FOX News.
In a survey of 400 people by the American Society for Microbiology, 25% of respondents said they would use antibiotics without a prescription and 14% were keeping old antibiotics at home for future use. Further, about 5% of those surveyed said they had used antibiotics in the past year without a prescription, most often to treat ailments such as coughs, sinus infections, and sore throats—symptoms that aren’t improved by antibiotics.
According to the article, when bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, but not enough to kill the entire colony, only the strongest are left. Those remaining bacteria divide and continue to replicate, making the post-antibiotic colony stronger than the original and resistant to the antibiotic.
However, the issue is a lot more complicated than that, says Dr. Patel. The sheer number of bacteria strains that exist make the issue complex. “We’re talking about a lot of different kinds of bacteria and a lot of different types of antibiotics at the same time,” Dr. Patel says.
According to Dr. Patel, don't take an antibiotic if you don't need to. “If you don’t need an antibiotic, there are definite downsides to taking one,” she says, including possible side effects that come with any medication.
Worse, Dr. Patel says, antibiotics may also disrupt the beneficial bacteria in your body, together known as your microbiome, that help regulate your immune system and metabolism, among other things.
Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them may create resistant beneficial strains in your own body that can pass on resistance to less beneficial strains. As the bacteria adapt and become resistant faster than the new antibiotics are being developed, more resistant strains are expected to appear.
Read the full article for more information.