[Image courtesy CDC]
I’m sure you’ve heard this from family, friends, or even students: “I have a little cold, so I just took some leftover antibiotics that I had in my medicine cabinet, and I'm feeling much better!” Want to tear your hair out yet? Me too. For years, doctors prescribed antibiotics for viral or other types of infections that don’t require antibiotics. Some of it was due to patient demand – if you scheduled your appointment, paid your copay, waited in the little room in your skivvies, you darn well better leave the office with a prescription!
Another unfortunate fact is that microbes are no respecters of borders. This is unfortunate for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that many other countries don’t even require prescriptions for antibiotics – witness this photo taken while I was in Mexico this summer.
We know that just taking enough antibiotics until you feel better is the perfect recipe for creating antibiotic resistance, and if your antibiotics are available over the counter, that’s just what you are going to do – pop ‘em like Tums when you have a belly ache.
There is also ample documentation that antibiotics have been overused in agriculture. Even though some of these practices have been ameliorated in the past decade or so, we are still facing the hard reality: bacteria are becoming more and more resistant to antibiotics and even some antiseptics and disinfectants. These antibiotic-resistant superbugs threaten to send us back to the pre-antibiotic era when a small shaving nick could mean infection, sepsis, and death.
Recently the CDC published a list of what are considered to be the “most urgent threats” of antibiotic resistant bacteria. They estimate that more than 2 million people contract antibiotic resistant bacterial infections every year and 23,000 people die of these infections. Additionally, according to their press release, “…up to half of antibiotic use in humans and much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary or inappropriate.” The CDC ranks antibiotic resistant bacterial threats as urgent, serious, and concerning. Here are the organisms considered “Urgent Threats.”
- Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), which includes our friend, E. coli. Some strains are resistant to all known antibiotics
- Clostridium difficile, AKA C. diff, causing 250,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths per year.
- Neisseria gonorrhoeae: also becoming multidrug resistant.
[Image courtesy CDC]
These are just the “Urgent Threats.” There are 12 other baddies listed on the “Serious Threat” list and three on the “Concerning” list. Mavenites, let’s bring this back to education: I, and I suspect many of my fellow microbiology professors, have vociferously and vehemently
pounded into the brains taught my students about the mechanisms and realities of antibiotic resistant bacteria. What more can we do? How do you educate your students, family, and friends about antibiotic resistance? What has proven effective in your classroom? What can we do better?