Personal Health  
comments_image Comments

The Rising Threat Of Antibiotic Resistance In The United States

Is this the beginning of the end of the antibiotic era?

Since Alexander Fleming discovered the very first antibiotic, penicillin in 1928, antibiotics have become a revolutionary tool for fighting infectious diseases. For over 70 years, these drugs have greatly reduced illness and death and transformed medical care across the world.

Today, antibiotics are still vital in many instances and beneficial when prescribed and taken correctly. However, their widespread overuse and misuse has led to the creation of infectious organisms that have become resistant to the drugs, fueling a rapid increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria ever year that is resistant to antibiotics, and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of those infections or from conditions complicated by the antibiotic-resistant infection.

Those who are infected with antimicrobial-resistant organisms are more likely to suffer from their illness for longer durations, require lengthier hospital care and are more susceptible to death because of the infection. Hence, antibiotic resistance not only places an economic burden on our entire health system but is considered to be one of the world’s most critical public health threats.

So, how does bacteria become resistant?

A recent CDC report explains that when bacteria are exposed to antibiotics over a period of time, they start to learn how to outsmart the drugs. Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive good bacteria in the body are killed off but the resistant germs are left to grow and ultimately multiply, creating superbugs. This in turn, leads to limited treatment options and can cause further dangerous bacterial infections that pose higher risks to human health.

Steve Solomon, director of CDC’s Office of Antimicrobial Resistance, explained the phenomenon to AlterNet:

"We call it the antibiotic paradox: the more you use antibiotics, the less effective they become. Antibiotics were such a remarkable drug when they were first discovered. Back then, the feeling was that any side-effects would be minimal compared to the life-threatening infections that up to that time had never been treatable. Until the 1980s, new antibiotics were being developed very rapidly to combat resistant bacteria. However, progressively our thinking and mindset toward antibiotics changed. The medical profession became complacent and worried less about antibiotic resistance. In the back of our minds we believed there would always be a new antibiotic coming along to treat infections. Sadly, this wasn’t to be. 

"In the last 10-15 years, the development of antibiotics has slowed down tremendously. That era of somewhat complacency and feeling that there would always be new treatments is now long in the past, with two recent antibiotic inventions showing signs of resistance within only a few years. The concern now is that someone will get an infection and there will be no drugs to treat the infection because bacteria are resistant to everything. That is the nightmare scenario."

In fact, evidence suggests we have now reached a state in which there soon may be no assurance that we can treat infections effectively.  Common conditions like gonorrhea, strep throat, pneumonia and the fungus candida are now considered infectious threats because they are showing increasing resistance to the drugs used to treat them, even among people who are young with seemingly good immune systems.

Our hygiene-driven, drug-reliant culture that seeks instant relief has contributed to the growing problem, fueled by our tendency to self-medicate and demand drug treatment for infections that antibiotics simply cannot treat. Likewise, the medical profession’s willingness to overprescribe antibiotics to satisfy patients, often derived from a fear of lawsuits, has further contributed directly to resistant infections.