Worldwide, around 700,000 people die due to antibiotic resistance. In the U.S., 2-million people develop an infection as a result of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Of those individuals, 23,000 die. Unfortunately, these cases don’t unfold as a result of negligence or incorrect care. Instead the number of antibiotic resistance deaths is rising rapidly and the only way to stop it is for everyone to take responsibility.
If combatting resistance is a concern that’s true to your heart, welcome! Those of us who have worked in healthcare embrace the idea of becoming an antibiotic guardian. When we do so, we promise to protect the drugs that took the 20th century by storm and dramatically reduced infection-related deaths. Would you like to play your part in keeping our penicillins, cephalosporins, and macrolides safe? Well, you’ll find it’s easier than you think.
First, why is antibiotic resistance happening?
In the 19th century, the discovery of drugs that rapidly reduced infections excited the world. Medicine was facing the enormous challenge of treating those who developed infections en-masse in trenches while defending our shores. Unbeknown to clinicians, taking a trigger happy approach to prescribing antibiotics wasn’t a smart idea. Today, we know better.
As microbes are small creatures with short lives, they’re at an evolutionary advantage. Using good old natural selection, those that survive the antibiotics they’re exposed to produce robust heirs. As the CDC states, around 50-percent of audited antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary. Our bodies are surprisingly good at combatting infections alone. For example, throwing antibiotics at all ear infections doesn’t significantly reduce how long the illness lasts for. In fact, you’re more likely to invite a good dose of diarrhea on yourself than experience significant clinical benefits.
It’s also worth giving a nod to the way antibiotic use is prevalent in other industries. For example, farming. However, that’s not the focus of today’s post.
How can you prevent antibiotic resistance?
As with all areas of medicine, prevention is better than cure. While you can’t prevent infections altogether you can try. Engage in routine handwashing and encourage your children to do so. Vaccination may be a means of preventing viruses in most cases, but your immune system needs all the help it can get. Prepare food safely and check out the hygiene ratings of any restaurants you visit.
Now, for the next stage. If you do have a suspected infection, consider whether antibiotics are the answer. While it’s always advisable to seek medical guidance when you’re unsure of a condition, work with your doctor to protect antibiotics. For example, around 70-percent of tonsillitis cases are viral. In such instances, antibiotics aren’t appropriate. If your doctor suggests that the cause is viral, trust them.
Finally, when you do take antibiotics make sure you complete the full course. Failing to do so means you kill some bacteria while priming the others to develop resistance.
How big is the threat really?
Usually those who suffer due to antibiotic resistance are in a vulnerable position already. For example, those who undergo an organ transplant and later develop septicemia. Or, those receiving chemotherapy that enter a state of neutropenia. Another example is the minority who cannot receive certain vaccines and are, therefore, immunologically vulnerable.
While various pharmaceutical, manufacturing, and medical industries all need to play a part, this is an excellent opportunity for you to take a grassroots approach. Alongside making a contribution to society as a whole, you’ll probably guard yourself against an unpleasant bout of diarrhea. That, in itself, is an excellent motivating factor.
(NB: Always seek medical advice before stopping or altering treatment. Similarly, make an appointment when you’re unsure of a condition.)