Antibiotic Resistance

By Luis G. de Jesus, MD

For the past 70 years antibiotics have saved countless lives by killing various infectious organisms that cause illnesses and deaths. However, organisms have adapted and these drugs are now less effective.

Antibiotic resistance is a major problem in the US and around the world. According to the CDC, at least 2 million people in the US annually suffer from infections caused by organisms that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections.

The use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance. How does antibiotic use cause antibiotic resistance?

1) Our body has plenty of organisms naturally (“normal flora”). Skin, mouth, stomach, intestines, colon and vaginal tract have normal flora that help the body keep harmful organism from growing. A few are antibiotic-resistant.

2) Antibiotics, when taken for an illness, kill not only the bacteria that cause the infection but also the good bacteria protecting the body.

3) Harmful and antibiotic-resistant bacteria grow and take over.

4) Some bacteria give their antibiotic resistance to other bacteria potentially causing more harm.

Although administration of antibiotics is necessary to treat certain infections, new data published by the Journal of American Medical Association found 1 out of 3 antibiotic prescription is unnecessary. Researchers found that most of unnecessary antibiotics are prescribed for respiratory conditions caused by viruses – including common colds, viral sore throats, acute bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections. These viruses do not respond to “bacterial” antibiotics.

In addition, the commercial use of antibiotics in food-producing animals (cattle, pigs, chicken) can lead to contamination of food with resistant bacteria causing antibiotic-resistant illnesses in humans. We need to promote responsible antibiotic use in food-producing animals.

Some antibiotic-resistant infections are:

  • skin infections (MRSA or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)
  • pharyngitis (Group A Streptococcus)
  • gastro-enteritis (Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter, and C difficile)
  • sexually transmitted diseases ( gonorrhea and NGU)
  • vaginitis (yeast infection)
  • urinary tract infection (E. coli)
  • pneumonia (Streptococcus pneumonia)
  • tuberculosis (Mycobacterium TB).

Some organism have become resistant to nearly all if not all the antibiotics we have today.

How do we stop this dangerous trend of antibiotic-resistance?

1) Patients can talk to their health care providers about antibiotics – when they are necessary or not. These conversations should include information on benefits of antibiotics as well as risk for infections by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Avoid taking antibiotics for common colds, other respiratory infections, and gastroenteritis caused by viruses. In case an antibiotic is necessary, take it properly and follow instruction on dosing and duration of treatment. Get vaccinated with flu and pneumococcal vaccines so as not to get secondary bacterial infections.

2) Protect yourself from contaminated food and keep your food safe. Clean, separate, cook or chill your food properly. Germs can survive in many places around your kitchen. Wash your hands and clean your utensils, cutting boards and food-preparation surfaces often.