I have always had a weak immune system. Antibiotics have often saved me. I never questioned those physicians who prescribed them generously to me over the course of the years. No wonder. Antibiotics have always worked for me – so far. But what if they don’t anymore? What if a patient develops resistance?
My fears are not unsubstantiated at all. Ever since the discovery of antibiotics in the 20th century they have proven to be a tremendous boon and saved countless lives. Nevertheless, hospitals all over the world are facing a growing number of infections caused by bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics now. This is a serious challenge for them. Microbes have exceptional genetic capacities. Those superbugs have developed various mechanisms of resistance; they can literally outsmart the drugs.
I know that immunocompromised patients in general and people receiving chemotherapy (as those who have undergone surgery or who need dialysis) are highly susceptible to infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And suddenly, instead of being glad about the antibiotics my doctors prescribe to me I am scared.
My fears are well grounded and shared by the experts. I had a look at the “Review on Antimicrobial Resistance” and the final report on tackling drug-resistant infections globally . An estimated two million people in the United States develop infections that are resistant to antibiotics. Sometimes they lead to their death. In around 30 years more than ten million people might die from untreatable infections each year. Cancer causes about the same number of fatalities globally in twelve months. The economic damage from drug resistance might be even more dramatic than the impact of the 2008 financial crisis according to the World Bank.
We are as used to antibiotics as to running water, electricity, modern transport facilities and wireless communication and take them for granted. However, we have not only overused antibiotics for ourselves, but also for livestock farming. The World Health Organization recommends limits for their use in livestock. Farmers must not hand out antibiotics to animals which were designed to treat diseases in people.
But what can you do?
• One of the best things you can do to prevent infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria is to get vaccines (against influenza, tetanus, whooping cough, pneumonia, meningitis for example) and to wash your hands regularly. Hospital hygiene is an issue as well. Be on your guard!
• Only use them against diseases caused by bacteria. They wont help if you have a virus infection. It is estimated that about 30 millions of antibiotics prescriptions annually are pointless. Those incorrect prescribing practices may not only lead to drug resistance, but can cause side effects like allergic reactions and serious diarrheal infections. too. If you are not certain whether you are suffering from a viral or bacterial infection, watch and wait (while treating the symptoms) until you start taking antibiotics.
• The intake of broad-spectrum antibiotics as a cure against everything from pneumonia to abscesses is unrewarding on the long term. You can ask your doctor to test which type of antibiotics you need. It is recommended to ask for the shortest course of antibiotics. A treatment of three days can be as effective as a 14-day treatment in many cases.
• If you must take antibiotics, finish them – even if you start feeling better. Don’t stop before or you are more likely to develop resistance. This does not mean taking all the pills you have, but taking the exact amount your specialist has prescribed to you.
• Don’t save antibiotics for your next illness and be sure to take the ones which really treat the disease you are suffering from.