World Antibiotic Awareness Week is Nov. 12–18, and Lake Regional Health System encourages the public to learn more about the threat of antibiotic resistance.
“The World Health Organization calls antibiotic resistance one of the biggest threats to global health today, and we’re seeing reason for concern right here in Missouri,” said Joshua Brickner, D.O., who cares for both adult and pediatric patients at Lake Regional Hospital and who serves on the hospital’s Antimicrobial Stewardship team. “As more bacteria develop resistance, it’s harder to find effective treatments, and that means infections that should be simple to treat can be very difficult to control.”
What is antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change to survive treatment with antibiotic medicines. These resistant bacteria are sometimes called “superbugs.”
“It’s important to understand that the bacteria themselves — not humans or animals — become antibiotic-resistant,” Dr. Brickner said. “A medicine no longer works because the bacteria have changed. So even when exposed to an antibiotic, resistant bacteria continue to survive and reproduce.”
How widespread is the problem?
Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many more people die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.
The list of infections becoming harder, and sometimes impossible, to treat because of antibiotic resistance includes pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning and gonorrhea.
“It’s scary to think we could be headed into a future with no effective treatments for many common infections,” Dr. Brickner said. “That is why the World Health Organization and the CDC are sounding the alarm and calling antibiotic resistance an urgent threat.”
What can be done to slow antibiotic resistance?
Every time antibiotics are used, bacteria have the opportunity to develop resistance. So it is important to limit the use of antibiotics to situations requiring them.
“We should be careful not to use antibiotics for infections such as the common cold or the flu, which result from viruses,” Dr. Brickner said. “Treating viral infections with antibiotics won’t help the patient get better but will give bacteria a chance to develop resistance. Patients need to learn not to pressure health care providers for antibiotics in those situations.
“It’s also important to use the right antibiotic to treat bacterial infections,” Dr. Brickner continued. “Instead of thinking it’s best to receive the most powerful medicine that will kill the most bacteria, we should want the antibiotic that’s most targeted against the bacteria causing our illness. The targeted approach not only helps fight antibiotic resistance but also helps prevent side effects and hard-to-treat infections that result from killing good bacteria.”
Along with careful use of antibiotics, another important tactic is preventing infections. Helpful behaviors include proper handwashing, safely preparing food, avoiding close contact with sick people, practicing safer sex and keeping vaccinations up to date.
“The more infections we prevent, the less we’ll need to use antibiotics, which means fewer opportunities for bacteria to develop resistance,” Dr. Brickner said. “We’ll also help prevent the spread of bacteria that have already developed resistance.”
To test your knowledge on wise antibiotic use, visit our Health Library.
Lake Regional Health System provides comprehensive health care services to residents and visitors throughout the mid-Missouri region. The hospital is a Level II Stroke Center, Level II STEMI (heart attack) Center and Level III Trauma Center. Lake Regional also provides a wide range of specialties, including cancer care, heart care, orthopedics and women’s health. Plus, Lake Regional operates primary care clinics, Express Care clinics, rehab therapy clinics, programs for home health and hospice, and retail pharmacies.