Beginning of New Era: Antibiotics fight bacteria
When the first antibiotic was discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming there was skepticism that this “mold juice,” as he described the results in a petri dish, would be helpful for patients. It was twelve more years before Penicillin was used on the first patient, a London policeman with a face wound. His face wound began to heal within days, but sadly the bacteria had entered his blood stream and he died days later because the novel new drug could not be produced quickly enough to continue the treatment.
Decades later we face a return to the time before Fleming’s discovery where bacteria like streptococcus, diphtheria, and others will not respond to any antibiotic. This leaves patient and clinicians facing the new reality where an injury at the gym, or from working in one’s yard, or an accidental cut in the kitchen has the potential for fatal consequences.
Entering a Post Antibiotic Era
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has been sending warning about overuse of these precious drugs for some time. Our habits are hard to break, and many times those who are sick feel they need a prescription to get better quickly. Antibiotics have been infused into animal feed, so the drug is in our food chain, a very significant problem.
Consider these statistics from the CDC:
- 2.8 Million people are infected in the US each year
- 35,000 die due to resistant bacteria
The CDC’s updated report offers a very disturbing picture of the future without antibiotics:
“On average, someone in the United States gets an antibiotic-resistant infection every 11 seconds and every 15 minutes someone dies. When Clostridioides difficile, a bacterium which is not typically resistant but can cause deadly diarrhea and is associated with antibiotic use, is added to these, the U.S. toll of all the threats in the report exceeds 3 million infections and 48,000 deaths.”
Stories that will break your heart
The Infectious Disease Society of America is another organization that works to raise the alarm about the reality that we’ve entered an era of significant antimicrobial resistance. The following case stories are representative of the harm that comes from casual use of antibiotics.
Woman needing dental work
A healthy woman died because her dentist prescribed clindamycin, a very hefty antibiotic, following a root canal. Her suffering, from the resulting C Diff infection, is vividly described by her son and her rapid death is one human story in these numbers.
Planned Shoulder Surgery
Following years of athletics, a healthy man agreed to shoulder surgery to repair the damage. A week later he is suffering from severe abdominal pain. Initially doctors think he has a virus but the symptom continues to get worse. When he finally goes to the Emergency Department, he has lost 20 pounds because of dehydration. They determine he became infected with Clostridium difficile, an intestinal bacterium during his surgery. The severe diarrhea it causes can kill a person if not treated correctly and quickly. He recovered after a month of treatment.
Simple Steps to Engage and Protect Yourself from Clostridium difficile
- Do not ask for or take antibiotics for a viral Infection
- Wash hands with hot water and soap frequently
- Know signs of infection
- Get rid of old antibiotics prescriptions at your pharmacy or through a community drug collection
- When prescribed an antibiotic for a bacterial infection, take the medicine exactly as directed and finish all doses
- If you experience diarrhea after starting an antibiotic or other worrisome side effects, call your provider right away
Reference web sites:
- Healthcare Acquired Infections – https://www.cdc.gov/hai/pdfs/progress-report/hai-progress-report.pdf