Fungal infections and growing antibiotic resistance
GLENN ELLIS | 7/30/2018, 4:38 p.m.
Strategies for Well-Being
Sadly, the way we’ve been using antibiotics is helping to create new drug-resistant “superbugs.
Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs for people. They’re also given to livestock to prevent disease and promote growth. Antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections, such as strep throat and some types of pneumonia, diarrheal diseases and ear infections. But these drugs don’t work at all against viruses, such as those that cause colds or flu.
For almost 100 years, bacteria fighting drugs known as antibiotics have helped to control and destroy many of the harmful bacteria that can make us sick. But in recent decades, antibiotics have been losing their punch against some types of bacteria. In fact, certain bacteria are now unbeatable with today’s medicines.
“Superbugs” are strains of bacteria that are resistant to several types of antibiotics. Each year these drug-resistant bacteria infect more than 2 million people nationwide and kill at least 23,000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis, gonorrhea, and staph infections are just a few of the dangers we now face.
Here’s how that might happen. When used properly, antibiotics can help destroy disease-causing bacteria. But if you take an antibiotic when you have a viral infection like the flu, the drug won’t affect the viruses making you sick. Instead, it’ll destroy a wide variety of bacteria in your body, including some of the “good” bacteria that help you digest food, fight infection and stay healthy. Bacteria that are tough enough to survive the drug will have a chance to grow and quickly multiply. These drug-resistant strains may even spread to other people.
Over time, if more and more people take antibiotics when not necessary, drug-resistant bacteria can continue to thrive and spread. They may even share their drug-resistant traits with other bacteria. Drugs may become less effective or not work at all against certain disease-causing bacteria.
We all often complicate matters by failing to complete the proper course of medication, stopping when symptoms go away or using leftover pills to treat a possibly unrelated future infection. When this happens, treatment kills most but not all of the bacteria. The surviving bacteria are resistant to the current antibiotics, causing doctors to prescribe a stronger antibiotic. But the bacteria can learn to withstand the more potent drug as well, perpetuating a cycle in which increasingly powerful drugs are required to treat infections. This new species of fungal infection has the potential to become a serious public health challenge - a threat similar to that of antibiotic resistance.
Unfortunately, many antibiotics prescribed to people and to animals are unnecessary. And the overuse and misuse of antibiotics helps to create drug-resistant bacteria.
In the past, some of the most dangerous superbugs have been confined to health care settings. That’s because people who are sick or in a weakened state are more susceptible to picking up infections. But superbug infections aren’t limited to hospitals. Some strains are out in the community and anyone, even healthy people, can become infected.