Is the golden age of antibiotics over? The author of a recent Los Angeles Times article thinks so, and a growing number of scientists are becoming concerned about how doctors will treat infections when antibiotics stop working. It might be time for you to start worrying too.
The article detailed the story of a 49-year-old woman suffering from a urinary tract infection (UTI) that would not respond to antibiotics. When examining her urine specimen, lab technicians identified the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli) as the source of the infection. Since E. coli is the cause of 85 percent of all urinary tract infections (UTIs), the doctors were not surprised.
The scientists were surprised to discover the mcr-1 gene in the bacterium’s DNA. This gene makes the pathogen impervious to antibiotics. They also discovered that the DNA could snap off and attach to other bacteria. Once attached, the gene can make those bacteria resistant to antibiotics as well.
THE DAWN OF ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE
Since their discovery in the 1940s, antibiotics have helped doctors save millions of people from illness and death caused by infectious diseases. Farmers also discovered many benefits of administering antibiotics to food-producing animals. Unfortunately, indiscriminate and widespread use of antibiotics has reversed the medical benefits gained in the past seven decades. Throughout the years, scientists have watched helplessly as pathogens became resistant to one antibiotic after another. Pathogens are now resistant to every known antibiotic.
Many attribute antibiotic resistance to widespread use in agricultural settings. In fact, livestock receives more than 70 percent of antibiotics the FDA considers important to human health.
So why do farmers give antibiotics to cows, pigs, and other healthy animals? Sometimes they do it to improve the health of food-producing animals and protect livestock from infectious diseases. Producers also give livestock antibiotics to make the animals reach market weight faster, which does not improve the health of the animal or the quality of food but it does help the farmer make money.
INFECTIONS ARE EVERYWHERE
Infectious pathogens are popping up everywhere, including in food sources once considered safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that 46 people from 21 states became ill with E. coli between December 2015 and June 2016. Each person had eaten or handled raw cookie dough. The CDC and other groups have warned against eating raw cookie dough for years now, as uncooked eggs may contain E. coli. What makes this outbreak different is that the CDC found the E. coli in the flour, not the eggs.
There are several strains of E. coli. Many strains are harmless but some can make you very sick with diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Some types can cause bowel necrosis, where intestinal tissues die, or lead to serious kidney failure.
Like infection from other aggressive pathogens, infection with E. coli requires prompt treatment with antibiotics. One person with even a mild E. coli infection can face life-threatening complications without antibiotics; a world without antibiotics faces widespread epidemics of infectious diseases.
CONTROLLING ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE
Although it is a big problem, there are small steps each one of us can take to help control the rise of antibiotic resistance. Do not take antibiotics for viral infections, such as colds and flu, as antibiotics only kill bacteria. Take your antibiotics as directed and for as long as directed. Never skip doses and do not stop treatment early, even if you start to feel better. Discard any leftover antibiotics; never save leftover antibiotics for the next time you are ill. Also, think about what you buy in the stores. If you are able, vote with your wallet and actively seek out food raised without the use of antibiotics.
When you are taking antibiotics it is more important than ever to also take probiotics. Follow your doctor’s protocol for antibiotics and follow up with probiotics two to three hours after each antibiotic dose.
When you take antibiotics you are ‘wiping out’ both the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria, this leaves the gut lining vulnerable. We like to use the analogy of parking spaces. If you can fill those open parking spaces on the gut lining back up with the "good guys" it helps prevent the "bad guys" from gaining access. Many people are mislead and believe they have to finish their antibiotics before starting probiotics, this is not accurate, just make sure you separate the time that you take them by a minimum of two hours so they both have the opportunity to do their ‘job’.
Recent research has shown that a single round of commonly used antibiotics can alter your "normal" flora for up to one year after the antibiotics were given. Given this data we tend to encourage a longer duration of probiotic use after the antibiotics have been completed. Personally, we take probiotics daily.