Bacterial Resistance to Antibiotics

In the last 60 years since wide spread use of antibiotics became available, they have been considered a miracle cure for controlling and destroying bacterial infections. But every miracle has a down side, with every passing decade we have witnessed an emergence of more and more bacteria that have mutated and adapted to the not only one, but many of the antibiotics we have to control them.  This has set medicine back decades in their ability to control and fight many diseases.

What this means to the consumer is more doctor visits, illness that last linger and are more difficult to treat and the use of increasing more toxic drugs. For those with an already weakened immune system, it could result in death. The Center for Disease in the United States estimates that on the nearly two million people each year who acquires a hospital related infection (MRSA), approximately 90,000 will die.  Three out of every four of the bacteria that cause hospital borne illness are now resistant to one or more of the antimicrobials used to treat them.

Within just a few years after penicillin, our first antibiotic, started becoming widely used to treat the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), the bacterium mutated and penicillin –resistant strains of the bacteria started being noticed. Today one of the strongest antimicrobials used to treat staph infections, Methicillin is no longer effective in controlling many strains of Staphylococcus aureus. Even Vancomycin, our most lethal antibiotic to date is losing some of its effectiveness in treating some of the emerging strains of Staphylococcus aureus.

So How Does Antibiotic Resistance Occur

Bacteria are very tiny organisms which can only be seen under a microscope. Bacteria exist in our bodies, on our skin, in the food we eat, the soil, our drinking water; they live on plants and animals. They serve a good and bad purpose. The right bacteria in the right place are beneficial, gut bacteria are a necessary component of food digestion. The wrong numbers or types of bacteria located in the wrong place can result in severe and even deadly infections.  This is when we need the antibiotics to control or slow the growth of harmful bacteria. But bacteria in a survival of the fittest mode mutate and change very quickly to adapt to their environment, thus becoming resistant to the drugs we use to control them.

It is not only through antibiotic use that bacteria mutate and become resistant. There is a natural evolution that also takes place. Bacteria found in a glacier in the artic was found to be over 2,000 years old and in tests done on it, researchers found it had a natural immunity to some of our current antibiotics.

The adaptation process of bacteria allows them to mutate and change their DNA sequence spontaneously to adapt to their current circumstances and survive.  These changes make it possible for the bacteria to make the antibiotic inactivate in controlling or killing them.

Bacteria can also become resistant through interaction and association with other bacteria. They reproduce rapidly; mix with other bacteria, acquiring genetic material from these other bacteria and morph into new types and strains of bacteria borrowing resistant material from each other.  I this way bacterial resistance can spread from one type of bacteria quickly to another.

Combating Antibiotic Resistance

Beginning in 1999 the Department of Health and Human Services, along with ten other federal agencies and departments formed a committee to address the threat of antimicrobial resistance.  Their plan announced in 2001 is called the Public Health Action Plan to Combat Antimicrobial Resistance.

Together they will coordinate efforts between the health agencies at state and local levels, along with pharmaceutical companies, universities, health-care professionals, professional societies, agricultural producers and the general public. Their plan is to find new ways to preserve the viability and usefulness of current antibiotics and facilitate the speedy development of new antimicrobial therapies.

Preserving the Usefulness of Current Antibiotics

Viruses and bacteria are the two main types of germs that cause most infections. Antibiotics only work against bacteria and have no effect on viruses. Viruses are the cause of all but 15 % of sore throats, the common cold, sinus infections, coughs, bronchitis, fluid in the middle ear and the flu. There is no positive reason to prescribe antibiotics for any of these conditions, yet every year physicians give in to pressure from the patient and prescribe antibiotics to treat viral infections. This is part of the problem leading to antibiotic resistance.

The wide spread use of antibacterial soaps, gels, lotions and cleaning products are also contributing to the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria and germs. Thorough washing with soap and water are sufficient in most cases to kill germs and bacteria. Remember USE not ABUSE. Save the stronger products for hospital settings and people who have compromised immune systems. The more we overuse antibacterial products, the less effective they become.

Upper Respiratory Infections and Antibiotics

The majority of upper respiratory illnesses and infections result from viruses. These germs cannot be killed by antibiotics. The chart below helps you to understand when an antibiotic might be helpful.

 

Illness Usually caused by virus Usually caused by bacteria Antibiotic usually needed?
Cold No
Flu No
Chest Cold(in otherwise healthy children and adults) No
Sore Throats(except strep) No
Bronchitis(in otherwise healthy children and adults) No
Runny Nose(with green or yellow mucus) No
Fluid in the Middle Ear(otitis media with effusion) No

 

Encouraging New Drug Development

As we reduce the number of prescriptions written for antibiotics, pharmaceuticals lose money in lost revenue. The FDA has to make it profitable for them to develop new drugs while encouraging less use of the existing and new drugs. They propose offering incentives to pharmaceuticals to make this venture more economical and entice them to go along with the plan. The idea is to offer incentives as exclusivity