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Combating the Rise of Antibiotic Resistance

written by: AlyssaAst•edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 10/11/2011

In many parts of the world antibiotic resistance has reached unprecedented levels as bacterial infections are able to outwit the drugs we throw at them, even some of the latest ones. But that does not mean that it's game over as medicine has a number of tricks up its sleeve.

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    What is Antibiotic Resistance?

    Simply put antibiotic resistance is the resistance of a microbe such as a bacterium or fungus to a drug treatment that it was previously sensitive to. The fundamental cause is a genetic mutation that allows a particular microbe to survive exposure to an antibiotic. In bacteria this mutation is spread by transduction, transformation or conjugation, and exposure to antibiotics creates a selective pressure for the resistant strains. It's an evolutionary arms race. As scientists create more powerful drugs the bacteria develop more powerful defences and start to inch ahead. So even stronger therapeutics are developed, but the microbes become resistant to them as well. And so it goes on.

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    Causes of Antibiotic Resistance

    There are a number of reasons why antibiotic resistance has become a global problem. Among them are over prescription of antibiotics by doctors, patients not finishing their antibiotic courses and antibiotics being added to agricultural feed. Bacteria evolve and as they do so they develop ways to combat the antimicrobials that have been designed to kill them.

    As a result infections are harder to eliminate from the body, and some infectious diseases are now extremely difficult to treat, much more than they were a few decades ago. These organisms are now commonly called multidrug-resistant or MDR strains. In some cases, the implications of antibiotic resistance are so great that there aren’t any current medications effective against some microorganisms.

    Infections that are becoming the most resistant include those caused by Staphylococcus aureus. The methicillin-resistant staph infection typically occurs in people who are or who have recently been in hospitals and other healthcare settings, but there is also an MRSA infection that can strike otherwise healthy people. However, MRSA isn't the only problem.

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    Medicine Fights Back

    To reduce the occurrence of antibiotic resistance the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have put together a number of combative strategies for the public and healthcare professionals to pay attention to.

    The top approach involves the correct prescribing of antibiotics. For example, by encouraging doctors not to prescribe them for viral infections.

    Another combative strategy involves properly educating the public about the use of antibiotics, including the importance of completing a prescribed antibiotic course, even if the patient starts to rally round and feel better during the treatment. Just because a person is on the mend it does not mean that the causative bacteria have been completely eliminated from their system. They must stay the fight and complete the course.

    Sometimes when a person doesn’t finish the full course of antibiotics, they often save the medication for the next time they are ill. But antibiotics are prescribed for specific illnesses. Taking an antibiotic that’s ineffective against an infection raises the risk of antibiotic resistance.

    The FDA has created strict labeling regulations addressing how antibiotics should be properly used. All prescription labeling must contain several statements advising healthcare professions to only prescribe the medications to treat bacterial infections. The labels encourage proper patient counseling of the medications as well.

    But these aren't our only weapons against antibiotic resistance. There are many natural remedies that contain the same properties as antibiotics, and produce similar effects as medications, and in some situations are commonly recommended by physicians. Many remedies restrict the growth of bacterial and fungal infections, reducing the need for prescription drugs. Others aid the immune system, promoting rapid healing. Some remedies can even be used to treat common symptoms associated with illnesses such as sore throat and ear ache.

    NB: The content of this article is for information purposes only and is not intended to replace sound medical advice and opinion.

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    References:

    "Antibiotic Resistance" http://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/index.html

    "Antibiotic Resistance" http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/infections/protect/659.html

    "Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria" http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Antibiotic_resistant_bacteria?open