Antibiotic Resistance: What Causes It?

In many cases, it is patients who are causing the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Whenever you take an antibiotic for a viral infection, you are making yourself resistant to the drug. When you don’t take the full regiment of prescribed antibiotics because you “feel better,” you are creating super bugs. This is because whatever bacteria are still alive in your system are now resistant to that antibiotic.

So you have a sore throa,t or a cough or a runny nose and you go see the doctor. You just missed a day of work, after all, and it would be remiss to not try and get better. The doctor inspects you and tells you to get plenty of rest. You ask for a prescription. The doctor acquiesces and writes up some antibiotics for you. Well, since it so happens that you have a viral infection, you are no better off. On top of that, you just contributed your little share to antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotics are like brakes: the more you use them the faster they wear out. Currently, 190 million doses of antibiotics are administered in hospitals each day, and 133 million courses of antibiotics are prescribed to non-hospital patients each year. Antibiotics evolve and mutate in their quest for survival. Every time one bacterium is exposed to something that can kill it, it tells its other bacteria friends (through DNA exchange).

It is important to understand the difference between a viral and a bacterial infection. Although sometimes they present similar symptoms, bacteria are single-celled microorganisms that thrive in many different types of environments, while viruses are smaller and require living hosts to multiply. Viruses take over cells and use them to reproduce the virus. The only true way to determine which culprit is present is a test, like a strep throat culture for example.

According to the CDC, data suggests that more than ten million courses of antibiotics are prescribed for viral conditions each year. Demanding a prescription every time your child has a cough is both unnecessary and harmful. A bowl of chicken noodle soup and some cough medicine works just fine in most cases. Doctors must also be vigilant and not give into the temptation to over-treat patients. If a doctor suspects a bacterial infection, a test should be done to confirm it.

Additional Resources

American College of Physicians Antibiotic Resistance: http://www.acponline.org/patients_families/diseases_conditions/antibiotic_resistance/

Health Link Too Much of a Good Thing: http://www.theuniversityhospital.com/healthlink/archives/articles/antibiotics.html

CDC Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work: http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/campaign-materials/about-campaign.html

 

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