Do you know someone who didn’t finish their antibiotic prescription and then took the remaining pills the next time they felt sick again? This practice is more common than you might think. It is also a very dangerous practice that has led to the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Antibiotics have a very specific purpose and that is to kill bacteria and to keep them from reproducing. They do NOT fight infections caused by viruses. Infections caused by viruses include: most ear infections, colds, flu, most coughs, most sore throats, bronchitis and stomach flu. Bacteria is responsible for some ear infections, severe sinus infections, strep throat and urinary tract infections. Taking an antibiotic when you have a virus may do more harm than good. When you take an antibiotic you increase the chances that the bacteria in your body may be able to resist that antibiotic later. If this happens you may acquire or spread an infection that those antibiotics cannot cure.
One antibiotic resistance strain that has become a serious health concern is MRSA or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. There are two types of this bacteria. The most common strain is hospital acquired MRSA. New and more potent strains are appearing which are capable of causing severe infections; the most serious being bacterial pneumonia. This is especially problematic for people in healthcare settings such as the elderly and others with weakened immune systems.
According to an article in the Tampa Tribune by the Associated Press, a new study “…suggests (that) hospital outbreaks of drug-resistant staph bacteria don’t always spread from one patient to another but that numerous people – patients, visitors or staff – bring in the deadly germ.” The article goes on to say that scientists are tracking how this strain of bacteria is spreading around the world. Staphylococcus aureus is a common bacteria and “…about 1 in 3 people has (it) in the nose with no symptoms but can infect others.”
The second type is community associated MRSA which has been around since the 1990’s. Community associated MRSA is spread through skin infections by skin to skin contact. Sharing personal items such as towels or razors can spread this type. Fortunately, this type of MRSA can be treated with other commonly used antibiotics; for now anyway.
The Staphylococcus aureus (or S-aureus) bacteria was discovered in the 1880’s. It was the cause of painful skin conditions such as boils and impetigo. By the 1940’s penicillin was routinely used to treat these infections. Unfortunately through misuse and overuse the bacteria became resistant to penicillin and Methicillin was substituted. By 1961 new strains of the bacteria developed that resisted previously effective drugs.
To stop the evolution of new antibiotic resistant bacteria it is important to follow your doctor’s instructions when you do need an antibiotic. Take ALL pills even if you feel better before the prescription is finished. This reduces the odds that there will be any bacteria left over in your body that could become resistant. If for some reason you have leftovers pills, do not take them without your doctor’s okay. They may not work or you most likely won’t have enough to kill all bacteria. You may not get better or you can increase the chances that the bacteria will become resistant.