Protecting Against Antibiotic Overuse
When penicillin was invented in 1928, it was a turning point in medical history and was the beginning of the modern era where physicians could actually cure deadly infections. With antibiotics came the reduction of death and illnesses from infectious diseases. Unfortunately, these drugs have been used so widely and for so many years now that many of the bacteria they are designed to kill have adapted to them, making them less infected.
Every year in the United States, at least two million people become infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria, resulting in at least twenty three thousand deaths. Antibiotic resistance has been called one of the world’s most important public health problems by many medical organizations across the globe.
Whenever a person takes antibiotics, the sensitive bacteria are killed first, which may leave the resistant ones to grow and multiply. Bacteria adapt, just like humans and other animals, according to the law of the survival of the fittest. When bacteria develop ways to fight off antibiotics, they no longer are susceptible to them, and can then become an antibiotic resistant strain.
As antibiotics are used more and more globally, the resistance of diseases to common antibiotics worsens. Repeated, or improper, use of antibiotics are the primary cause of increased strains of resistant bacteria. When antibiotics fail, infections last longer, cause more severe illnesses, require more doctor or hospital intervention, and can involve more powerful, expensive, or toxic medications.
Infectious diseases that are typically treated with antibiotics account for one third of deaths in older adults. Pneumonia is the most deadly among these, with an estimated 90 percent of all deaths from the disease occurring in people aged 65 or older. Older adults are at greater risk of complications from pneumonia as well, and even surviving an infection can mean a long, difficult recovery, oftentimes taking much time to return to baseline health and quality of life.
The good news is that we can protect ourselves, our families, and our communities from the spread of disease by getting vaccinated against the most common infections. Vaccination not only protects the vaccinated, but it protects those who are not vaccinated, and those who are vulnerable to the illness. Vaccines are readily available for many common illnesses, such as the flu, pneumonia, and shingles.
With the knowledge that bacteria will eventually, on a long enough timeline, figure out a way to become resistant to any antibiotic developed, we must use them sparingly, only when absolutely necessary. And when prescribed antibiotics, it is important to take them as prescribed and take the whole course. Many times, people stop taking the antibiotics as soon as they feel better, but this leaves the strongest bacteria remaining, whereas finishing the prescription would have taken care of them as well.
The best defense against bacteria and infections is to never get them in the first place. By practicing good hygiene, such as hand washing, wound care, you can prevent infections bacteria from entering the body. And when you’re sick, staying home until you’re well, and especially avoiding those with compromised immune systems such as infants or the elderly, will go a long way towards improving public health.