In this first World Antibiotic Awareness Week, the focus is on education and specifically on teaching us all how antibiotic resistance poses a serious threat to patient well-being.
Antibiotic resistance is now being acknowledged as a threat to health by all major groups interested in patient care. For example, The World Health Organisation is encouraging all Member States to raise awareness of antibiotic resistance and is introducing slogans such as, “Handle Antibiotics with Care.”
Universities too are raising the issue:
"The problem is that bacteria are immensely adaptable critters. Expose them to antibiotics long enough, and they'll evolve ways to survive the drugs." Abigail A. Salyers - University of Illinois.
At the end of the day, it is a change in attitude. For so long, antibiotics have played a pivotal role in modern medicine: bacterial infections that once would have been deadly have been treated swiftly, and routine operations carried out with significantly less risk of morbidity. But, sadly, this is no longer the case, and the effectiveness of antibiotics is now decreasing at an alarming rate.
Sepsis has always been a significant public health concern as it is responsible for 37,000 deaths each year (Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, 2013) and a large proportion of these deaths are attributed to antibiotic-resistant infections. With the development of new antibiotic-resistant strains and no antibiotics to counteract these, in the next 20 years, there could be a surge in rates of what we have more recently thought of as treatable illnesses such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. And treatments for cancer or organ transplants or even minor surgery in the future may also be considered too risky.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are more commonly called “superbugs,” examples of these being MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), C-Difficile, E-coli strains (such as strain H30-Rxmulti drug-resistant tuberculosis. These bugs are often highly contagious, require longer stays in hospital or intensive care and massively increase the risk of death from infection.
More and more people are becoming aware of the dangers of overuse of antibiotics. Most people are already familiar with the superbug MRSA, and C. Difficile, but not yet have heard of ESBL. ESBL-producing bacteria have joined the growing number of antibiotic-resistant pathogens that cause hospital-acquired and now community infections. ESBL bacteria are different from other superbugs because ESBL does not refer to one specific kind of bacteria. (For instance, MRSA relates specifically to methicillin-resistant strains of Staphylococcus Aureus.)
ESBL’s (Extended Spectrum Beta Lactamases) are enzymes made by some bacteria, including Klebsiella and E. coli amongst others. Usually, ESBL’s are harmless and live in the body without causing infection. EBSL refers to an antibiotic-resistance enabling enzyme that the bacteria are producing, as a means of protecting themselves against attack.
It would seem that bacteria have responded to the overuse of antibiotics in farming and medicine by creating beta-lactamase, an enzyme that can give the bacteria immunity to each new attack they encounter. ESBL enables resistance not only to penicillin but to cephalosporin antibiotics also (antibiotics whose names begin with “Cef-”). Many different species of bacteria can produce the ESBL enzymes although the most common ESBL producing bacteria are E. coli and Klebsiella.
The general public and medical professionals have contributed to a culture where antibiotics are expected and given inappropriately. In the past, broad-spectrum antibiotics to cover a wide range of issues have been overprescribed without checking for the specific bacterium responsible for the infection and targeting it directly. Antibiotics were often prescribed for months on end when patients have pushed for antibiotic prescriptions for illnesses that do not warrant them such as common colds and acne. In addition, many patients give up on taking their antibiotics before completing the full course or skip doses which has the effect of there being enough of the drug in the body to promote resistance but not enough to kill the infection. Thus resistance has spread, and the next time the antibiotic is taken, it will already be ineffective.
A focus on diagnosis is being stressed as a means of targeting responses more efficiently.
One of the main things we can do is to avoid using antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. There are many natural products that claim to tackle common ailments and infections without having to resort to antibiotics.
For example, Organic Oregano Oil is a natural antibacterial that bugs do not develop resistance to. It has been shown to be effective in an extensive range of conditions (e.g. acne, bladder infections, gum disease, psoriasis, canker sores, bursitis, candida, strep throat, pneumonia).
D-Mannose, a natural sugar, is equally effective when dealing with E-Coli infections. Unlike antibiotics, a candida infection will not follow treatment, and you’ll be helping your fellow humans by not contributing to the escalation of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains and their devastating effects.
If you absolutely have to take an antibiotic, be sure to take the full dose as prescribed by your doctor for the specified duration at regular intervals without skipping doses, as this is one way of not facilitating further mutation and resistance.
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