Doctor Oz did an episode on the threat of the rising plague and bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics. Dr. Brad Spellburg, author of Rising Plague: The Global Threat from Deadly Bacteria and Our Dwindling Arsenal to Fight Them, joined Dr. Oz to teach us about antibiotic resistant bacteria. 70% of bacteria are resistant to at least one antibiotic that we have. Dr. Oz said that if we don’t stop taking antibiotics when they are not necessary, we may soon be at risk for the Bubonic plague! There are a variety of bacteria that cause diseases which are already resistant to the antibiotics and drugs currently available, due to reasons such as people taking antibiotics when it is not necessary. We can help keep away these “drug-resistant superbugs” by educating everyone about antibiotics, so please pass this article on to all of your friends and family!
How Antibiotics Work:
Penicillin was the first antibiotic drug discovered by an observation by Alexander Fleming that some bacteria do not live in harmony with other bacterias. Penicillium fungus (which is the same mold you will see growing on a loaf of bread if you leave it sitting on the counter for too long) gives off a chemical that makes the wall of various bacteria explode, killing the bacteria. Today we have a variety of different antibiotics which all focus on killing different types of bacteria through destroying the bacteria’s structure (like the bacteria’s cell walls or membranes), or interfering with the DNA, protein or enzymes that the bacteria needs to survive.
How Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Evolve:
Over the past couple of decades, bacteria have been exposed to our antibiotics and thus have needed to evolve to find a way to survive in the presence of these antibiotics. It is just like Darwin said – survival of the fittest and the evolution of organisms to exist in a changing environment. So as time goes on, and more bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, we are creating an environment in which more antibiotic resistance is building up in bacteria.
Bacteria’s Vulnerability: Gram-Positive & Gram-Negative Bacteria
Certain bacteria are better at becoming vulnerable to antibiotics than others. Scientists can figure out a bacteria’s type by testing to see how well it absorbs or resists a colored liquid. For example, Gram-positive bacteria’s membrane take in the purple stain, but Gram-negative bacteria’s membrane does not take in the purple stain so they just turn a pink color when exposed to a counterstain. Gram-negative bacteria have a special layer on the outside of them that protect them and make it harder for antibiotics to kill Gram-negative bacteria. Gram-negative bacteria were previously found mainly in hospitals, but now they are working their way out of hospitals. You may have heard of Staphlococcus Aureus (MRSA), which is resistant to methicillin and falls under the category of a Gram-Negative bacteria “superbug”. When someone gets infected by one of these antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, doctors have to prescribe very strong antibiotics that we used to reserve for deadly infections, but soon bacteria will grow resistant to these superdrugs too.
What Can We Do To Help Prevent Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria?
Obviously, doctors need to think twice before prescribing antibiotics, but as the patient, we also need to question a doctor when he prescribes an antibiotic.
1. Learn How A Viral Infection Differs From A Bacterial Infection:
Antibiotics do not work on viral infections – antibiotics can only help bacterial infections. Therefore, you should not be on antibiotics if you have the flu, bronchitis, cold, runny nose or sore throat (unless you happen to have a strep throat). So do not ask your doctor for antibiotics, and do not accept antibiotics, if you have a virus rather than a bacterial infection.
2. Do Not Insist on Prescriptions for Antibiotics At Your Doctor’s Office
Do not insist on getting a prescription for antibiotics (or any medication for that matter) when you go to see your doctor. If your doctor does want to give you a prescription for antibiotics, ask him or her if it is necessary or if there is another option. We don’t want to be taking antibiotics as a “precaution”.
3. Take Your Entire Antibiotics Prescription
When it is necessary and your doctor prescribes antibiotics for you, make sure not to skip any prescribed doses and to take the entire prescription of antibiotics. Even if you feel better, you should take the full course of antibiotics, otherwise the bacteria could come back even stronger in your body. Finally, never, ever, ever share your prescription of antibiotics with anyone else… in fact, never share any prescription medications with anyone!
4. Prevent the Spread of Infections
You can keep infections from spreading by washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (I learned to say the A-B-C alphabet song in my head when washing my hands to be sure I wash them for long enough!) or by using the water free hand sanitizers. If you are in a hospital, you should insist that everyone wash their hands when they enter your room (even your doctors!).
5. Demand New Improved Legislation to Prevent a Public Health Crisis
Write to your local and state representatives and senators to demand better antibiotic legislation so that pharmaceutical companies are encouraged to work on discovering new antibiotics. You can also visit the Infectious Diseases Society here.