Antibiotic Resistance and You

by Katie Gatto

So you’re sick, again. Your nose is runny, eyes won’t stop watering, and if you sneeze one more time, you’re sure that your head will just blow clean off. In the office you beseech your doctor for some relief from the torment. After examining you, he hands you a prescription and off to the pharmacy you go. You pick up your antibiotics and in a few days you start to feel better. That’s the end of that, or is it.

Antibiotics act as a kind of immune system booster, helping your body’s natural defenses to fight the infection. But, the microorganisms that make you sick are living creatures, and because of that they have the power to adapt. In creatures that live as long as humans, the process of adaptation can take centuries or even millennium to be seen. These bacteria have a much shorter lifespan, days or sometimes even hours, so the process of adaptation over generations moves faster for them.

It is important to take the full course of your prescription. If you feel better and stop those bacteria still left can gain strength and multiply and pass on their resistance. By taking all your pills over the allotted time you kill all bacteria.

The problem of completely antibiotic resistant bacteria was first noticed in patients who have chronic problems with their health, those people who are likely to get many infections in a relatively short span. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first reported a case of this in the United States in 2002 where a man with renal and vascular disease. This particular infection was called .S. aureus and it was resistant to the antibiotic vancomycin.

So, about now you’re wondering what this has to do with you. You’re young, and in good health, so this isn’t a problem for you. Right? Well actually it is a problem for you. At least it is if you ever need to go to a hospital in your lifetime it is.

The National Institute for Health estimates that about 2 million people will get an infection while they are in the hospital, and that 90,000 of those people will die from that infection.

So what can you do help prevent the risk of developing antibiotic resistant bacteria in your body? Well, first and foremost practice the common sense measures that will keep you from getting sick, like washing your hands, handling and preparing foods properly and abstaining from eating high risk foods, such as raw eggs.

Then arm yourself with information. The Washington State Department of Health has established guidelines about what illnesses are not treatable by antibiotics. Be sure to report all your symptoms to your doctor, so that you don’t get prescribed an antibiotic for a viral infection.

If your doctor suggests an antibiotic for something that is on the list, then ask him or her about alternative treatment for infection. In some cases, you can simply ride it out, and treat the symptoms, but that’s only on a case by case basis, and only your doctor can tell you for sure.

Finally get active. Visit groups like the Roar Project to find out how you can help to spread the word and help others to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistant infections.

Overall the most important thing to remember is that this problem will not go away, if anything it will grow in the future. We need to find new ways to help fight infection and keep the antibiotics one step ahead of the bacteria.

Related posts on the Curious Cat Science Blog on antibiotics.