Alexander Fleming discovered the first antibiotic, penicillin, in the late 1920s. This momentous discovery marked the beginning of the “antibiotic age.” No longer were humans defenseless against harmful bacteria that cause life-threatening infections. This rather fortuitous discovery essentially changed the course of medical history. Antibiotic literally means “life killing.” That’s exactly what antibiotics do – they destroy the life of bacteria without harming the host.
The discovery of antibiotics was undoubtedly one of the greatest triumphs of the twentieth century – but, now, less than one-hundred years later we’re fighting a different battle – the emergence of the superbugs. What are superbugs? They’re bacteria that have mutated or changed so they no longer respond to most commonly-used antibiotics. These bacterial villains have the power to keep on growing even when they’re exposed to antibiotics that once kept them in check. These hardy and resilient bacteria have developed defenses that make them impervious to the medications used to treat them.
How bad is the problem of superbugs and antibiotic resistance? The World Health Organization issued a recent report on the growing threat of antibiotic resistance and superbugs. According to this report, antibiotic resistance is a worldwide problem of growing proportions. Bacteria called Klebsiella pneumonia that cause serious and sometimes deadly infections now respond to antibiotic therapy less than half the time. Even common bacteria like E. coli that cause urinary tract infections and bacteria that cause gonorrhea are becoming increasingly difficult to treat due to antibiotic resistance. In hospital and community settings, infection with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is becoming an increasingly common and deadly problem.
What’s at the heart of the antibiotic resistance problem? Overuse of antibiotics. Unfortunately, antibiotics are overprescribed in a medical setting – doctors are quick to whip out their prescription pads to write an antibiotic prescription for upper respiratory infections, even those caused by viruses. In addition, some countries make antibiotics available over-the-counter without a prescription. It’s not just humans that are overusing antibiotics. They’ve been widely used in the meat industry since the late 1940s after studies showed giving antibiotics to livestock caused them to grow faster and put on more weight.
How does antibiotic overuse contribute to the development of superbugs? When bacteria are exposed to antimicrobial agents some are able to develop defense mechanisms. These defense mechanisms allow them to evade the deadly effects of antibiotics meant to kill them. In fact, according to the FDA, 80% of all antibiotic use is in the meat industry. These antibiotics are excreted by livestock and enter the soil, further worsening the problem of antibiotic resistance.
What are the consequences of antibiotic overuse? The emergence of more superbugs that are resistant to all forms of antibiotic therapy. This makes some bacterial infections untreatable, and, as some scientists have suggested, undoes the progress made over the last 80 years towards treating infectious diseases.
How can you protect yourself against the growing threat of deadly superbugs? Practice good hygiene by washing your hands with soap and water throughout the day. Places where people congregate and expose open cuts and scratches like health clubs are sources of infection-causing bacteria, including drug-resistant organisms like MRSA. Keep scratches and scrapes covered to reduce exposure to infection-causing bacteria that may be resistant. If you get a cut or scrape, clean it thoroughly and watch it closely for signs of infection.
Just as importantly, make sure you are eating a healthy, balanced diet, (avoid all simple carbs and sugars) supplemented with a good quality probiotic such as Natren Healthy Trinity. You have trillions of microorganisms in your gut, up to eighty percent of your immune cells are found in your GI tract. Good probiotic bacteria may offer some defense against “bad guy” invasion by crowding them out making it more difficult for them to take hold – this process is called competitive exclusion and is a way that probiotic bacteria contribute to gut health. Lastly, only take antibiotics when you need them. Most upper respiratory tract infections are caused by viruses and won’t respond to antibiotics. Always question your doctor and make sure you really NEED an antibiotic before taking one. If you do take an antibiotic, use it as directed for the full length prescribed and don’t share it with others.
The bottom line? Antibiotics and superbugs are a growing threat that shows signs of getting worse. Be aware of this serious health issue and take steps to protect yourself and your family.