What is Antibiotic Resistance?
Antibiotic resistance occurs when an antibiotic drug has lost its ability to inhibit or kill the growth of pathogenic bacteria that cause disease. In other words, the bacteria has become resistant to treatment and continues to grow. Antibiotic resistance occurs naturally, but the misuse of and overprescribing of the drug is accelerating the process. Because of this, a growing number infections are becoming harder to treat as the drug isn’t as effective as it once was. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), antibiotic resistance is one of the largest global health threats.
Is Antibiotic Resistance A Public Health Crisis?
As you may know, we live in a world full of disease-causing microbes also considered “germs” or “bugs.” These bugs are made up of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites.
Antibiotics are “anti-bacterials” and are meant for the treatment of bacteria-causing illness. While they kill bad bacteria, they also kill good bacteria that are essential for a healthy body. This allows the bad or drug-resistant bacteria that the antibiotics didn’t kill to grow and take over, hence creating illness and disease. Even more, some of these drug-resistant bacteria give their strength to other bacteria which cause more harm.
Since the 1940s, antimicrobial agents such as antibiotics have been used to kill infectious organisms. Therefore, it may seem strange that these drugs would be a threat to public health when they have actually reduced illness and saved lives over the last several decades.
However, it’s because antibiotics have been so widely used for so long that they have adapted to the infectious organisms they’re meant to cure and are now less effective in treating diseases. They’ve become resistant to antibiotics. This is a public health crisis when we no longer have the inability to treat chronic infections such as Clostridium difficile, Escherichia coli (E. coli), gonorrhea, and streptococcus.
What Causes Antibiotic Resistance to Develop?
Antibiotics are the most commonly prescribed drug in both animal and humans. Unfortunately, they have been misused in many ways that have contributed to its resistance.
Contaminated Food Supply Risk
According to the CDC, more than 400,000 residents of the United States become sick each year from antibiotic-resistant foodborne bacteria. Use of antibiotics in food animals, such as meat and poultry, can lead to infections in humans.
When antibiotics are given to animals, they kill most of the harmful bacteria that reside in the intestines of the animals. However, resistant bacteria survive and multiply which can spread to animal food products, produce through contaminated soil or water, prepared food through contaminated surfaces, and the environment where animals excrete their wastes.
Unnecessary Treatment on Animals
Antibiotic resistance is rapidly multiplied in the United States where the vast majority of these drugs (approximately 80 percent) are used on healthy animals to prevent disease or promote growth. According to Consumers Union, this overuse of antibiotics in food animals is “real and growing.”
Numerous health organizations – including the American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, Infectious Disease Society of America, and the World Health Organization – agree that humans are at risk both due to the potential presence of superbugs in animal foods and to the general migration of superbugs into the environment. Once in the environment, they can transmit their genetic immunity to antibiotics onto other bacteria that make people sick.
Unnecessary Treatment on Humans
Not only are antibiotics unnecessarily overused on animals. According to the CDC, up to 50 percent of antibiotics prescribed for humans when not needed. Many times, the wrong dosage and duration are prescribed as well. Resistant strains of bacteria are then spread from person to person.
What are the Biggest Antibiotic Resistant Threats in the United States?
While some people are at greater risk, not one person can completely avoid antibiotic-resistant infections. The CDC has estimated a minimum of two million illnesses and 23,000 deaths are a result each year.
In 2013, the CDC published a report outlining the top 18 drug-resistant threats in the United States. They were categorized by urgent, serious, and concerning. While the most threatening is the urgent level, both serious and concerning should be alarming.
The most urgent antibiotic resistant threats include Clostridium difficile (C-dif), carbapendem-resistant Enterobacteriacea (CRE), and Deisseria Gonorrhoeae. These three infectious diseases have the potential to become widespread and require urgent attention in public health to identify infections and limit transmission. Currently, C-dif accounts for 14,000 deaths per year.
While not urgent, the CDC has declared 15 other diseases as antibiotic resistant threats. Because there is a reasonable availability of therapeutic agents, these threats aren’t considered urgent yet. However, they will worsen and become urgent if antibiotic resistant infections are not prevented. Campylobacter, Candida, Salmonella, Shigella, Streptococcus, and Tuberculosis are some of the infections you may be familiar with. While not urgent threats yet, they have already caused thousands of infections and deaths.
How Can Antibiotic Resistance be Reduced?
There are several ways you can fight antibiotic resistance. Below are some important actions you can take:
Prevent Infections: By avoiding infections in the first place, you can reduce the amount of antibiotics that must be used. It also reduces the likelihood that resistance will develop during treatment. Practical ways to help you prevent infections are handwashing, safe food preparation, keeping your water safe, opting for certified organic meats and wild fish, taking effective strategies to reduce sexually transmitted diseases, and using antibiotics as directed and only when necessary.
Improve Antibiotic Stewardship: The most important action to take to slow the development and spread of antibiotic resistant infections is to change the way antibiotics are used. As mentioned earlier, 80 percent of antibiotic use in animals and up to 50 percent in humans are unnecessary. By using antibiotics appropriately and safely is antibiotic stewardship. Practitioners also need to choose the right antibiotics and to administer them correctly in every single case.
Track and Submit Data: With the right information, experts can develop specific strategies to prevent antibiotic resistant infections. If you or your family falls ill to one of these infections, be sure to report it to the CDC as they gather data on these types of infections as well as their causes and risk factors.
Opt for Natural Remedies: Most infections don’t start out deadly. They gradually progress until you decide to go to the doctor. Instead of electing an antibiotic for treatment, start with a natural remedy such as botanicals. Plants have evolved and adapted along with bacteria for billions of years. Whereas bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics, they are much less successful in resisting the complex patterns found in living herbal plants.
How Many Types of Antibiotics are There?
From brand name to generics, there are well over 100 antibiotics on the market. However, there are seven main classes or types that your doctor may prescribe.
Penicillin – commonly known as amoxicillin (Amoxil, Amoxicot, Biomox, Dispermox, Trimox), ampicillin (Omnipen, Principen), carbenicillin (Geocillin), dicloxacillin (Dycill, Dynapen), or oxacillin (Bactocill)
Cephalosporin – commonly known as cephalexin of Keflex.
Macrolides – commonly known as erythromycin (E-Mycin), clarithromycin (Biaxin), and azithromycin (Zithromax)
Fluoroquinolones – commonly known as ciprofloxacin (Cipro), levofloxacin (Levaquin), and ofloxacin (Floxin)
Sulfonamides – commonly known as co-trimoxazole (Bactrim) and trimethoprim (Proloprim)
Tetracyclines – commonly known as tetracycline (Sumycin, Panmycine) and doxycycline (Vibramycin)
Aminoglycosides – commonly known as gentamicin (Garamycin) and tobramycin (Tobrex)
Avoiding Antibiotic Resistance is Protection for Your Health
Antibiotic resistant infections can happen anywhere and to anyone. If you’re someone who runs to the doctor for antibiotics every time you get sick, you may want to reconsider.
Except for the case of emergency, antibiotic usage not only places your health at risk but it places health of everyone around you at risk for communicable diseases. These “superbugs” are the result of antibiotic resistance which are spread through the overuse and unnecessary treatment of antibiotics.
With antibiotic resistance being one of the world’s most pressing public health concerns today, it’s important to understand how you can avoid this dilemma and prevent a pandemic. Be sure to take great measure in preventing illness and improving antibiotic stewardship. Also, opt for natural remedies before resorting to antibiotic treatment.
If you want to learn more about protecting your gut, check out this article: Protect Your Gut Health from Antibiotic Treatment.