Overuse of Antibiotics Strengthens Bacteria

Your nose is dripping green and yellow fluid, your sinuses are plugged and your child has an ear infection, so you need antibiotics. Right? Wrong, say public health officials, alarmed at the growing number of antibiotic-resistant infections such as MRSA and C-difficile.

Overuse of antibiotics means bacteria, which have the single-minded purpose of surviving and multiplying, will start to develop an immunity.

"Eventually, if you give enough antibiotics, with enough germs around, some of them will become resistant," said Dr. Richard Stanwick, Vancouver Island chief medical officer. "We have some absolutely magic bullets to deal with infection," he said, "and we shouldn't squander them."

The ultimate horror movie for medical practitioners is a world where bacteria have become resistant to all antibiotics.
"There's not a lot of research and development going into new antibiotics," said Dr. Bonnie Henry, epidemiologist with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. "As we haven't developed new ones, we should be careful to better use the ones we have."
The major problem is over-prescribing, sometimes for viral infections, which cannot be helped by antibiotics. Most coughs and colds are caused by viruses, not bacteria. Patients often pressure general practitioners to prescribe antibiotics for problems that can be addressed by other means, Henry said.

The Center for Disease Control in the U.S. uses an innovative website (www.dobugsneeddrugs.org) to get the message out to the public and doctors.

The website, with sections for everyone from children to health professionals, hammers home the message that many infections do not need antibiotics and gives tips on how to avoid picking up bugs.

There is also growing concern over the amount of antibiotics used in commercial food industries, and the Center for Disease Control is one of the leaders in a collaborative project called Farm to Fork, looking at antibiotic use in feed animals.
"We're not yet sure what the link is," Henry said.

Judith Lavoie, Times Colonist, Monday, January 08, 2007