The Age of Drug-resistant Bacteria

English: Culture of ESBL-producing Escherichia...

English: Culture of ESBL-producing Escherichia coli (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Emily Vandament (12:00 Micro) found the episode of Frontline that we watched in class very enlightening and scary. I have posted about the frightening possibilities of ineffective antibiotic therapy before (see here, and here.) Here are some further details about antibiotic resistant patient isolates in a variety of clinical settings:

In light of Friday’s lecture, I found an intriguing article on the cause of bacterial resistance.  The recent surge in superbugs is reported by the CDC as being a result of, “unnecessary prescribing and overuse of antibiotics.”   Dr. Michael L. Barnett of Harvard Medical School even goes so far to say in this article, “unnecessary use of antibiotics also adds financial cost to the health care system and causes adverse effects for those taking the medication”.  Friday’s lecture video on three cases of drug-resistant bacteria piqued my interest because as a nursing major, I will be in the hospital environment 40 hours a week and a threat such as an unstoppable bacteria, transmitted in unknown fashion, triggers alarms for me and my future.

In a recent blog post, C. difficile was brought up as a life-threatening diarrhea causing bacteria that has been recently seen in the hospital setting within the United States.  In a September 16, 2013 NBCNews.com article titled “Drug-resistant ‘superbugs’ deemed urgent threats: US report,” this bacteria is again discussed saying that the organism is slowly developing a growing resistance rate.  The sole cause of this resistance is overprescribing antibiotics.  As discussed in the video, only a handful of companies are working with antibiotics and consequently, only a few antibiotics have been brought to the market recently.  Another bacteria discussed in Friday’s video was CRE (note from Singleton: “CRE” refers to “carbenicillin-resistant Enterobacteriaceae”), the “nightmare bacteria.”  The CDC reports to NBCNews that CRE is responsible for 9,300 healthcare-associated infections.  That is a lot of infections due to a resistant bacteria! You would think the drug companies would begin to respond!

While pharmaceutical companies concentrate efforts elsewhere, hospitals and care facilities can do much to prevent the spread of drug-resistant bacteria.  MNT online reports in the article, “High rates of unnecessary antibiotics prescriptions in US,” multiple ways to slow bacterial resistance.  One main way is to stop over-prescribing antibiotics such as antibiotics for strep throat.  Dr. Jeffrey A. Linder of Brigham and Women’s Hospital reports that in a study performed at the Boston hospital, only 10% of adults with sore throat have strep, yet 60% of adults with sore throats are prescribed for strep.  Even worse, the national study for acute bronchitis has a prescribing rate of 73% when the correct antibiotic should be near 0%! We wonder why bacteria are wising up to this overexposure!  The first way to slowing bacterial resistance is to selectively prescribe the antibiotics.  The second way is to be wise when having symptoms and rather than running to a physician, increase sleep and fluids.  Dr. Barnett reports, “most sore throats and cases of acute bronchitis do not require a visit to the doctor, and should be treated with rest and fluids”.  The drug-resistance will rapidly digress unless drastic steps are taken toward shifting frequency of antibiotic use.

I now understand why many argue that within my lifetime I will face a new face of medical treatment.  The Frontline video shown in lecture Friday is only a snapshot of what the next decade of bacterial treatment will hold.

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About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on October 27, 2013, in Guest Post. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Although Emily’s point about over prescription of antibiotics is a significant reason that this situation is occurring, I would strongly advocate the use of antibiotics to treat Streptococcus of the throat (“Strep throat”), due to the serious danger of later developing things like rheumatic fever.

  2. Stefanie Holtzer

    The fact that antibiotic resistance has increased so much over the last couple decades is extremely frightening. I found it interesting in lecture when we discussed the fact that only a few years ago a burst appendicitis could be treated with the right antibiotics and a healthy patient could be on their way soon after. However, now the growing resistance to antibiotics is preventing a burst appendicitis from being an easily cured situation. This summary reinforces the need for us all to be a little choosier when deciding whether or not to take antibiotics for every issue we have, which is a topic I have been thinking a lot about since our lecture on this material.

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