Antibiotic resistant bacteria are becoming a bigger and bigger problem worldwide. Most of you have heard about MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) but may not realize the many other bacteria that are accumulating resistance to our routinely used antibiotics. This is a serious problem! These resistant bacteria kill nearly 100,000 US hospital patients every year. While that is bad enough, the problem is likely to worsen unless we get a handle on the overuse of antibiotics in our country and start developing new antibiotics. 16 new antibiotics were approved for use between 1983 and 1987 meaning resistance wasn’t that big of a deal because we had newer meaner antibiotics to fight off the bacteria. But guess what, only 2 new antibiotics have been approved since 2008. We’re running low on options for treatment and need to maintain the efficacy of the antibiotics we have now. Imagine going to the doctor for a relatively common infection and being told it can’t be treated because none of the antibiotics we have work against it. It will be like going back to the pre-antibiotic era.
So, as a patient, what can you do to help? Don’t pressure your doctor to prescribe you antibiotics if he feels your illness does not warrant them. Viral illnesses are often the culprit for making our patients feel terrible but unfortunately antibiotics just won’t help. We can help you treat the symptoms but your body has to do the work to fight off the illness, not a pill. We all have bacteria that live on our bodies all the time. When you take antibiotics when you really don’t need them, it’s like giving your opponent all the plays in your book to prepare for the game. The bacteria use those antibiotics to figure out ways to fight against them the next time you’re sick.
Second, when you are prescribed antibiotics – take them all no matter how good you feel by the 3rd day of treatment! If you don’t, what you’ve done is killed off just enough bacteria to weaken the attack on your body but left behind all the super-bacteria that were strong enough to survive the first few days of treatment. They’ll be back to make you sick again.
Brooke Uptagrafft, MD
Dr. Brooke is a family medicine doctor.