Antibiotic overuse has led to superbugs, such as MRSA, and recent news has shown more problems, now with E. coli.
Antibiotics have been a tool used for many years to fight bacterial infections. They cannot combat a virus, but they have saved many lives. Antibiotics, or antimicrobial drugs, have unfortunately been overused, leading to antibiotic resistance. This means that harmful bacteria have changed in such a way that antibiotics are either less effective or not effective at all.1 When used properly, antibiotics can treat infections and even “life-threatening contagious diseases”. Antibiotics work against “bacteria, fungi, and certain parasites”. They cannot impact viruses, such as the ones that cause the flu or colds. Antibiotics cannot cure all illnesses, so they should never be taken for any illnesses caused by viruses. In addition, it is important to complete any dosage schedule of any prescribed medication, even if the patient is feeling better. By only taking a partial amount of antibiotics, a patient allows the bacteria to overcome the medications and become resistant. Antibiotic prescriptions should never be shared, and any leftover antibiotics may not treat the patient’s particular bacteria. If the bacteria in the body are not killed, they become more likely to be antibiotic-resistant. While prevention, such as hand washing, can help a person avoid getting sick, there are some situations in which antibiotics are necessary. Most coughs or bronchitis do not need antibiotics, unless they have been caused by a secondary bacterial infection. This is true for sore throats as well, unless caused by bacteria, such as strep. Antibiotics may also be prescribed for ear and sinus infections.2
Antibiotic Overuse Problems
Antibiotic resistance (bacterial resistance) occurs when the antibiotics cannot kill or slow particular bacteria. While there are alternative antibiotic medications available, sometimes the infections can be resistant to all of the alternatives, even the ones administered intravenously in a hospital.3 Antibiotic overuse has led to worldwide health issues. When antibiotics do not do their jobs, illnesses are longer and more complicated, patients need more doctor visits, expensive and stronger medications are prescribed, and death becomes more likely. Some of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria include ones that cause skin infections (MRSA), some STDs, meningitis, and “respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia”. Antibiotic overuse, such as when taken for viruses, will not treat the infections or prevent others from catching it. They will not help the patient feel better, and the side effects may be harmful. A good rule of thumb is that flu and cold symptoms generally improve over a week, but if there is a fever or if the symptoms worsen, there may be a bacterial infection that requires consultation with a healthcare professional. If the antibiotic is prescribed, it is crucial that the full course and doses are taken, without skipping any doses. The FDA is working on the problem of antibiotic overuse. One thing the FDA is doing is improving “labeling regulations addressing proper use of antibiotics”. They are also partnering with the CDC “to promote public awareness”. Finally, they are “encouraging the development of new antibiotics”.4 The CDC suggests other methods of helping a patient get over the cold or the flu, such as rest, fluids, over-the-counter medications, vaporizers and saline nasal spray, using lozenges or sore throat sprays, and considering the use of “flu antiviral drugs”. In the case of a urinary tract infection or whooping cough, though, antibiotics will be necessary.5 People should not pressure their doctors to prescribe antibiotics under the mistaken notion that they will provide quick relief. They should also not self-diagnose and taken antibiotics “purchased abroad or via the internet”.6
Besides MRSA and other superbugs, there has been recent news about “an antibiotic-resistant strain of E. coli”, that was resistant to the antibiotic colistin, which had been used as a type of “last resort for particularly dangerous types of superbugs”. In the future, this could mean that someone with a urinary tract infection, for example, would not be able to benefit from antibiotics. This problem with colistin was most likely a result of the drug’s use in “Chinese livestock; a strain eventually mutated enough to be resistant to it”. Those handling raw meat would be at a greater risk of getting that strain of bacteria. The same E. coli strain has been found in pork products and pigs all over the world, and now it is showing up in people.7 This particular bacteria strain has reached the US via a case of a Pennsylvania woman. With this situation, there is concern that superbugs can lead to “a post-antibiotic era” in which “surgery or transplants or chemotherapy cannot happen because people would die of infection”. According to the CDC, 30% of US antibiotics are “prescribed unnecessarily”.8 The E. coli that is resistant to colistin has “a specific gene, MCR-1”. There is concern that this gene will spread between strains. Colistin is necessary for superbugs, such as “the bacteria family CRE”, which is also called the “nightmare bacteria”. Treating livestock with “a broad, general dose of antibiotics” is a problem, in addition to antibiotic overuse in humans.9
2, 3 http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/drugs-procedures-devices/prescription-medicines/antibiotics-when-they-can-and-cant-help.html
Read more about the overuse of antibiotics.