Fredrickson: Fight back against antibiotic resistance

Michelle Fredrickson

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.  

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are on the rise globally. One woman made headlines last year when she died from an infection resistant to all known antibiotics, and other bacteria are being found globally with strong resistances as well.

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Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Everyone must be aware of this issue and take individual and community steps to stop it from getting worse.

Antibiotics are natural or synthetic substances that can kill bacteria, which are one of the major causes of disease. Unfortunately antibiotics don’t work against viruses, the other major cause, but antibiotics are still one of the most powerful medical advancements of all time.

However, the more bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, the more likely it is that they will begin to develop antibiotic resistance. When an antibiotic kills all the bacteria except the ones with some natural resistance, those resistant bacteria are the ones that go on to reproduce. This eventually creates a strain of ‘super-bugs’ that cannot be treated with antibiotics.

Some of the most famous antibiotic-resistant bugs are MRSA and C.Diff, which was recently publicized in John Green’s book “Turtles All The Way Down.” However, the CDC estimates that more than 23,000 Americans die every year as a result of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Antibiotic resistance is a risk every time a person takes antibiotics, which is why overuse of antibiotics can be so dangerous. Before antibiotic resistance was discovered to be such a major threat, it was common to prescribe antibiotics for everything on the assumption that even if it didn’t help, it wouldn’t hurt. We now know that this is not true.

This is a looming, scary problem as more and more bugs take on properties like MRSA, and infections that would previously be easy to get rid of become difficult to treat. It is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous emerging public health threats, and something that will soon become a deadly problem.

Things are not, however, hopeless. There are things people can do to slow down and even prevent antibiotic resistance from becoming so frightening.

First, if the doctor wants to try other methods of treatment prior to prescribing and antibiotic, be patient and cooperate with them. They are not trying to stop their patients from getting better — they are trying to stop antibiotic resistant pathogens from getting stronger.

The WHO is pushing all nations to decrease antibiotic use drastically, because over the past century we have overprescribed antibiotics to a harmful extent. The CDC estimates that 1 in 3 antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily, so doctors are encouraged to try other remedies first.

The world is heading towards a post-antibiotic era in which common infections will once again kill. If current trends continue … This may even bring the end of modern medicine as we know it.

Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization

Second, don’t take antibiotics not prescribed to you by a doctor, and always finish every course of antibiotics you take.

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Most antibiotics courses last for about ten days, and after about six or seven the patient may start feeling healthy again. It’s easy to stop taking the antibiotics as soon as you feel better, and many of the Colorado State University students I’ve talked to have admitted to doing this, but this is actually promoting resistance. This means more bacteria will survive and will pass on resistance to the next generation, and even across classes of bacteria.

If you take antibiotics that weren’t prescribed to you, it can be dangerous because not all antibiotics are the same — different antibiotics treat different things, and different dosages are prescribed for different illnesses. Additionally, taking leftover antibiotics will never be a full course, and this is harmful for the same reasons as not finishing the antibiotics the first time around.

Finally, use your voice. Antibiotic resistance is not an issue that should toe party lines, because everybody will face the consequences sooner or later. Let lawmakers know that this is an issue you care about, and encourage steps to fight back.

For example, no new antibiotics have been developed anywhere for nearly 30 years, because creating any new drug is extremely expensive and the payoff is very low, so there is no real incentive for a for-profit company to spend the money to develop antibiotics.

At the current prescription rates, any new drug would buy us an additional two years — a short timeframe, perhaps, but still worth investigating as doctors are already reducing prescription rates.

By taking personal steps to combat this frightening trend, and by encouraging lawmakers and leaders to step forward and make the topic a priority conversation, antibiotic resistance doesn’t need to take modern medicine back to the dark ages.

Michelle Fredrickson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @mfredrickson42