Last spring, the World Health Organization (WHO) produced a report that warned of a serious threat to public health worldwide, that is no longer a prediction of the future- but is happening right now: antibiotic resistance. The report recently grabbed the attention of the White House, prompting the President this September to issue an executive order–Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria.
According to the CDC in 2013, here in the United States, 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses have been associated with resistance to “superbugs” that have defied antimicrobial therapy. The problem is that these bugs keeps mutating. The fear is that we will not be able to keep up and therefore new treatment options are urgently needed.
The good news is that “the Administration is stepping up their efforts to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria as a national security priority”. The White House is asking for new vaccines and improved antibiotic stewardship by health care facilities.
The Key findings from the WHO report was that there was widespread resistance to antibiotics from many different infectious agents but the report mainly concentrated on 7 bugs that caused pneumonia, urinary tract infections, gonorrhea, and staph infections of the skin.
Physicians and healthcare facilities have a role to play in stewardship of antibiotics through better prescribing habits, cleaner water, improved hygiene, and infection control in hospitals and long term health facilities.
What can you do about antibiotic resistance?
Finish all of the dosage of antibiotic prescribed. When patients start feeling better and stop taking their antibiotics this leads to resistant infections that will need stronger antibiotics. The “stragglers” are not in high enough numbers to give the patient symptoms, but become “smarter” by figuring out how to become resistant.
Do not use “leftover” antibiotics from other people.
Listen to your physician if they prescribe “supportive care” such as rest, plenty of fluids and perhaps an over the counter analgesic
Contact your physician if you are not getting any better. You may have developed a “secondary” bacterial infection that needs to be re-evaluated.
Utilize preventative care. Get plenty of rest, eat a healthy diet, exercise, increase fluids, wash your hands frequently and find healthy ways to relax.
Dr. Frieden, of the CDC, wraps up antibiotic resistance very succinctly: “We all have a role to play-clinicians, patients, health services and public health. We have to emphasize that drug resistance is an enormous problem. We talk about the “pre-antibiotic era” and the “antibiotic era” and if we are not careful, we will be in a “post-antibiotic era”. We have to understand that these medicines have risks as well as benefits, and that part of what we do is be good stewards of antibiotics so that they will be there when we need them later on, and when our children and grandchildren need them.”