Doc Talk: Dangers of drug-resistant bacteria

In our weekly feature, "Doc Talk", Pediatric Emergency doctor, Clint Pollack from Valley Children's Hospital talks about an urgent threat to a child's health.

Antibiotics are used to fight infections but bacteria is developing the ability to defeat the drug.

Resistance to antibiotic medicines has been increasing since the 1950s.

Each year in the U.S., at least 2 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection, and at least 23,000 people die.

Some bacteria have now become resistant to most or all antibiotic medicines, requiring:
-More intensive, toxic medications
-Treatment with multiple drugs
-Longer, more expensive treatments and/or hospitalization

Bacteria become resistant to antibiotics through several mechanisms.

Mutations occur when bacteria reproduce. These changes may harm the bacteria or may give it an advantage, like resistance to an antibiotic.

Bacteria can swap DNA through plasmids or other mechanisms, spreading helpful genes to other bacteria.

How do bacteria defend themselves against antibiotics?
-They can develop mechanisms to neutralize the antibiotic, similar to an antidote.
-They can change their structure so the antibiotic cannot bind to the bacteria or cannot get through the cell wall.
-They can quickly pump the antibiotic out before it can work.

How does resistance spread?
-Natural selection. Antibiotics kill off the sensitive bacteria in a population first, but require more time or higher doses to kill resistant bacteria.

If resistant bacteria survive, they will reproduce and pass along their resistance ability to future generations.

MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is one example of a resistant bacteria. It was first noticed in the 1960s and now has spread to be a worldwide problem, causing infections in the community and in healthcare settings.

What can you do to help?
-Prevent infections by getting your children vaccinated, washing hands, and practicing good hygiene / infection control.
-Ask your doctor if antibiotics are absolutely necessary to treat your illness.

Viral illnesses and many simple bacterial infections will get better on their own and do not require antibiotics.

If you are prescribed antibiotics, take the full course exactly as prescribed. This should kill off even the more resistant bacteria and not allow them to survive and multiply.

Throw out any old, unused antibiotics.

Never take antibiotics that were prescribed for a previous infection or give them to another person.
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