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: Antibiotic Resistance Is (Probably) Not What You Think It Is

Antibiotic Resistance Is (Probably) Not What You Think It Is

Managing Editor

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on what it is calling the " phantom menace"-a new superbug that could become a threat. Although the carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriacae (CRE) is not yet something we need to worry greatly about, it is something that infectious disease experts are closely watching.

Superbugs belonging to the CRE family are known to be resistant to most antibiotics. The "phantom menace"--given its moniker because it isn't easily detected--is actuallyless antibiotic resistant than some other more common CREs. Nevertheless, it remains a concern even if it is resistant to only certain types of antibiotics, says Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor of preventative medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, because such resistance to any antibiotics limits treatment options.

Antibiotics have regularly been used for the past 70 years to treat infectious diseases. They can be credited with "greatly reduc[ing] illness and death from infectious diseases," according to the CDC.

The problem is that because these antibiotics have been used, the infectious organisms have adapted, making the antibiotics designed to kill them less effective--hence the term "antibiotic resistant."

In the United State alone, there are 2 million antibiotic resistant infections that cause 23,000 deaths each year. It is possible that wide spread use of antibiotics has led to "evolutionary pressure on bugs to mutate and become resistant."

Before you go running to your underground bunker to hide from the superbug (which, let's face it, is just one of many things you may want to be hiding in a bunker from these days), one of your most effective tools against a threat like this is good old education.

The World Health Organization released a report last month showing widespread misunderstanding among the public regarding antibiotic resistance.  Here's a snapshot of information from that report to help you better understand how this all works (or doesn't work).

  • You need to take ALL of your prescribed antibiotics. According to the report, 32 percent of people surveyed thought they should stop taking antibiotics once they start feeling better. In reality, you should take your full dose as prescribed because not doing so might mean the infection is not treated fully, enhancing the risk of antibiotic resistance among bugs.
  • Antibiotic resistance means the bacteria is resistant, NOT you. A whopping 76 percent of people surveyed believe that antibiotic resistance happens when the body becomes resistant to the antibiotics. In fact, antibiotic resistance happens when the infection is resistant to the antibiotics.
  • Anyone can get an infection that is resistant to antibiotics. The survey revealed that almost half of respondents thought only people who use antibiotics regularly are at risk for antibiotic resistance. This ties into the bullet above. The resistance is to the infection, NOT the person.
  • Antibiotics can NOT treat colds or the flu. Colds and the flu are caused by viruses. Antibiotics are made to treat infections caused by bacteria, not viruses. Taking antibiotics for colds or the flu can result in resistance problems.
  • You're not powerless to fight antibiotic resistance. Take your antibiotics as prescribed, don't share antibiotics, don't ask for antibiotics if your doctor doesn't recommend them, and make sure you're up to date on your vaccinations.

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