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What is Antibiotic Resistance by Melody Bier

By at January 30, 2013 | 8:34 am | Print

A major concern in the healthcare field today is the growing problem of overuse and misuse of antibiotics leading to bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.  The problem of antibiotic resistance is one that not only will affect us at a professional level, but also at the personal level. This is a global issue that needs to be addressed with much concern.

Antibiotics, also known as antimicrobials, have been in use since the 1940’s. They have proved to be very beneficial by treating bacterial infections in both humans and animals. This discovery revolutionized the modern world. Infections that once would lead to death were now treated easily and at low cost.  In the past few decades though, we have seen a growing problem as strains of certain bacteria have become resistant to the effects of antibiotic use.  If you ask your parents or grandparents, they will most likely remember using penicillin quite often.  Penicillin is no longer even prescribed in the United States. This is due to the fact that strains of bacteria have become resistant to this antibiotic. Some bacteria have mutated to produce a certain enzyme called penicillinase which destroys penicillin rendering it ineffective.

There are new bacterial strains that are actually acquired in the healthcare setting. Among these are MRSA and Clostridium defficile , better known as C. diff.  Healthcare associated infections are  one of the top ten causes of death in the U.S. Patients going into the hospital for a simple procedure are at risk for developing a life threatening infection. As you can see, this is a major concern for us all.

There are several steps we can take to combat this problem. Educating the public about antibiotics and proper use, and misuse is the first step. We live in a society that has a “fix it quick” mentality. When we are ill we just want to go to the doctor and get a pill that will make us feel better. The doctors are under pressure from the patients to “do something” to help us. We feel more satisfaction when the doctor has given us a prescription. The truth of the matter is that most illnesses are caused by a cold or flu that are viral in nature and are completely unaffected by antibiotics.  Taking an antibiotic in such cases can prove to be more detrimental to your health in the long run.  If you do happen to have a bacterial infection that does require a course of antibiotics, it is extremely important that you take them as prescribed by your physician. Following your doctor’s orders and finishing all your medication can prevent strains of the bacterium from mutating and becoming stronger, through a process known as `survival of the fittest’. If you stop taking the antibiotic when you start feeling better, then the stronger strains survive and go on to reproduce, thus causing resistance to the antibiotic.

Another aspect of antimicrobial use is the use of hand sanitizers and antimicrobial hand soaps on a daily basis. These too, add to the problem of resistance. They not only kill the “bad bacteria” but, also our normal flora, or “good bacteria” that are found on our skin. This gives ample room for resistant bacteria to grow without the competition of good bacteria that have been killed.  Regular hand washing with a mild soap is sufficient for washing away microbes without affecting your normal flora. As you can see, public education and doing our part personally can slow down the effects of overuse and misuse of oral antibiotics and antimicrobials.

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