Superbugs Beware!

Submitterd by: Dr Rebecca Wise

virus n red blood cellsWhat is the first thing that comes to mind when your friend, John, says he is sick? I would imagine that many of you will assume that there is some sort of infection. Then the answer for how to treat the infection has almost been drilled into us as a society… go get an antibiotic. And this is not necessarily bad advice; antibiotics are an amazing class of medications that can be a great tool for every healthcare setting. But have you ever heard of “too much of a good thing”? That is unfortunately where we are at right now in America with antibiotics. It used to be that we just had germs, but now because of the overuse of antibiotics, we have supergerms… bacteria that are now resistant to normal antibiotics because they have been exposed to them multiple times. But, believe it or not, you can help stop supergerms! And I will tell you how.

First, a little history. Prior to 1928, infections were treated quite differently than they are today. Different combinations of herbs, alcohol, even leeches were not uncommon. Then Alexander Fleming discovered the first antibiotic: penicillin, and since then we have developed hundreds of them and put them in just about everything, even in our bathrooms.

This brings me to the first way that you can stop supergerms, limiting your use of antibiotic soaps and hand sanitizers. Unfortunately you will have to do a little bit of digging at your local store to find regular soap anymore. Companies put antibiotics in our soaps not because they will actually make you cleaner, but because it will convince you to buy their product. The truth is that there has been no proof that adding antibiotics to soap will actually do anything to prevent infections. There are many studies however that have shown repetitive use of antibiotic soaps and sanitizers has contributed to bacterial resistance.

While the use of antibiotics in our everyday items like soap is certainly a factor in bacterial resistance, the main issue is the misuse of prescription antibiotic medications. Going back to that sick friend John from the beginning, there is a good chance that he does not really need an antibiotic. Believe it or not, your own body has infection fighters that are more complex and efficient than any pill on the market. When you get infected with some sort of germ (which by the way happens every day), your very own assortment of white blood cells spring into action and fight the invader off usually before you even know.

However, if you do find yourself with congestion/stuffy nose this winter and feel that you need to visit your doctor, do not assume that you will need an antibiotic. Odds are you have a cold caused by a virus (and viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics) which will eventually go away on its own. That is not to say you have to do nothing. There is a huge assortment of over the counter products designed to treat just about every cold and flu symptom out there, just ask your pharmacist and he/she would be happy to make a recommendation. By taking that advice, you can be less miserable from the symptoms while allowing your body to work against the infection.

That brings me to the number one thing you can do to help prevent supergerms and bacterial resistance. If you find that over-the-counter products just aren’t working and those symptoms just won’t go away, your doctor may decide that your body needs some extra help and prescribe you antibiotic medication to go pick up at the pharmacy. You will be told to finish all of it and this is extremely important. There is a good chance that you will feel better within days, but just because you start to feel better does not mean that the infection is gone. In fact, if you stop your medicine early there is a chance that the infection will come back even worse than before.

Now I know that this can be a scary and confusing topic, but all you have to do is take away this last piece of advice: listen to your healthcare professionals! Whether a doctor, pharmacist, or nurse, we went to school not just to treat diseases, but to help people be healthy. If you are still confused about anything, I guarantee that whomever you see about your health will be happy to answer your questions.

For Further Reading:
1. http://www.cdc.gov/features/getsmart/
2. http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/antibiotic-use/antibiotic-resistance-faqs.html#antibacterial-products
3.http://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/guidancecomplianceenforcement/guidanceforindustry/ucm216939.htm

Written by Christopher Wheeler, PharmD Candidate, LECOM Class of 2015
Student of Dr. Rebecca Miller Wise,

Be Well, Be Wise,
-Dr.Becky

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Dr. Rebecca Wise

Wise Words…. is a general medical information column from Dr Rebecca Wise. Dr. Wise has a master’s degree in education as well as her doctorate in pharmacy. She is an assistant professor and ambulatory care specialist at a Medication Therapy Management (MTM) clinic in Erie, PA.

Soon to be released is Dr Becky’s new website which will address women’s issues, watch for it: www.WiseWordsforWomen.com
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