World Antibiotic Awareness Week is Nov. 18–24, and Lake Regional Health System encourages the public to learn more about the threat of antibiotic resistance.
“Antibiotic resistance is an important issue across the globe and right here in Missouri,” said Joshua Brickner, D.O., a hospitalist at Lake Regional 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?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year in the United States, at least 2.8 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria or fungi, and more than 35,000 people die as a result. 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.
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. Some illnesses cannot be helped with antibiotics because they are caused by a virus rather than a bacterial infection.
“We should be careful not to use antibiotics for infections that result from viruses, such as the flu or COVID-19,” Dr. Brickner said. “Treating viral infections with antibiotics won’t help the patient get better but will give bacteria a chance to develop resistance. Every time you take an antibiotic you don’t need, you increase the risk of antibiotic resistance.
“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.”
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. To learn more, visit lakeregional.com.