Antibiotic Resistance, A New Threat to Health in the U.S.


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Antibiotics aren't always the answer and physicians should discuss alternative ways to help you feel better. Image by the CDC.

Antibiotics aren’t always the answer and physicians should discuss alternative ways to help you feel better. Image by the CDC.

Antibiotics treat bacterial infections, not viral infections. Depending on the type of antibiotic, it will either kill the bacteria or prevent it from reproducing.

There are good bacteria and harmful bacteria; when the harmful bacteria get into your system, they can reproduce quickly and emit toxins that make you sick.

E. coli, streptococcus, and staphylococcus are some examples of bacterial infections.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most pressing public health problems.

Antibiotic Resistance: Numbers in the U.S.

The CDC estimated in April that there are enough prescribed antibiotics every year for four out of five Americans to be taking them.

In 2010 there were 258 million courses of antibiotics prescribed among a U.S. population of a little less than 309 million. Wow.

The CDC also believes that out of the 258 million antibiotics prescribed, about 50 percent of them are prescribed incorrectly or not needed.

The highest rates are in the South and in Appalachia. West Virginia had the highest rate at 1.237 prescriptions per person, Kentucky came in second with 1.232 and Tennessee at 1.199 prescriptions per person.

The lowest rates of antibiotic use were found in California at 0.6 prescriptions per person, Oregon (o.595 and the lowest rates of prescriptions per person, Alaska at 0.529.

Resistance to Antibiotics: Why is it a Problem?

The Mayo Clinic describes antibiotic resistance as, “Antibiotic resistance occurs when antibiotics no longer work against disease-causing bacteria. These infections are difficult to treat and can mean longer lasting illnesses, more doctor visits or extended hospital stays, and the need for more expensive and toxic medications. Some resistant infections can even cause death.”

Antibiotics work against bacteria, some fungal infections, and some types of parasite, but they do not work against viral infections.

The CDC found that the most common prescribed antibiotic is azithromycin and it is generally prescribed for bronchitis. That’s a problem because most cases of bronchitis are caused by a viral infection.

Ear infections are also generally caused by a virus and not a bacteria, reports the Mayo Clinic; however, many physicians prescribe antibiotics to children for ear infections.

Antibiotic overuse is the single most important factor that leads to antibiotic resistance, reports the CDC.

Urgent: Superbugs

The CDC is tracking at least 20 strains of resistant bacteria. However, the most urgent ones include Clostridium difficileCarbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), and Drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae. 

According to the CDC’s report, “Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013” each year at least two million people acquire a resistance to one or more antibiotics that were designed to treat those infections. At least 23, 000 people die each year as a result.

People who develop a resistance to antibiotics require prolonged and more expensive treatment, longer hospital stays, more doctor visits, which all result in a greater disability and death compared to those infections that are easily treated with antibiotics.

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