Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a growing threat

Camden, wrote this for “The Public’s Health” blog on and

The World Health Organization recently released a big report warning about antimicrobial resistance as a global trend. Even the news release was scary.

The modern antibiotic era began in the 1930s with the development of the first sulfa drugs, which inhibited bacterial growth, and blossomed when penicillin, which killed bacteria, began to be purified and widely used after World War II. New antibiotics were developed; death rates from bacterial infections fell dramatically. Life expectancy rose thanks to these wonder drugs, vaccines, and improvements in sanitation.

In 1900, the greatest killers of Americans were infectious diseases: pneumonia, tuberculosis, and diarrhea and enteritis. Today, heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death.

But now we are faced with the threat that infectious-disease deaths will climb as microorganisms evolve to resist antimicrobial drugs. Already, tuberculosis, the second-biggest killer on the planet, has evolved resistance to many antibiotic drugs. Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis is becoming widespread. Preventing the therapeutic arsenal used against TB and other deadly infections from being neutralized requires a global effort. This means, among other things: surveillance; less use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals; the development of new therapeutic tools; and efforts by health providers and institutions to lessen unnecessary use of these drugs.

There have already been antibiotic-resistant outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. And Delaware recently reported what is believed to be the first case in the United States of NDM-producing carbapenem-resistant (CR) Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a multidrug-resistant bacterial organism first seen in Serbia. This problem must be addressed. We must use our antimicrobial drugs with care.

Preserving these vital medical tools isn’t a job only for governments, food producers, and health-care providers. We all have to do our part. What can we do? Here is what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asks of us:

Ask health-care providers whether tests will be done to ensure the right antibiotic is prescribed.

Take antibiotics exactly as prescribed. Do not skip doses. Complete the prescribed course of treatment; feeling better does not mean the bacteria are dead yet.

Take only antibiotics prescribed for you; do not share or use leftovers. Antibiotics treat specific types of infections. Taking the wrong one may delay correct treatment and allow bacteria to multiply.

Do not save antibiotics for the next illness. Discard any leftover medication once the prescribed course of care is done.

Do not insist on antibiotics when your doctor thinks you don’t need them. Remember: Antibiotics have side effects.

Prevent infections by practicing good hand hygiene and getting recommended vaccines.

None of these things are hard to do; all of them are important.


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