When faced with the classic symptoms of a bacterial infection, the majority of doctors routinely prescribe an antibiotic to fight off the bacteria. While antibiotics are often critical in the treatment of bacterial infections and diseases, antibiotic misuse and overuse can sometimes negate these benefits. Oftentimes, individuals fail to comply with the instructions of antibiotic use by either using an antibiotic without a prescription or by failing to take the appropriate, prescribed amount of the medication for the full course of treatment. Drug-resistant bacteria are a dangerous, direct result of this common antibiotic abuse. These types of bacteria span the gamut from Staphylococcus aureus, “golden staph,” to Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the cause of gonorrhea. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 23,000 fatalities a year result from antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection. As humans continue to overuse antibiotics, bacteria slowly evolve to combat the cure.
Shigella sonnei was once easily treatable by many different antibiotics, but now a strain of this diarrhea-causing bacterium has become resistant to ciprofloxacin, one of the last oral medications used against it. In April, the CDC reported an outbreak of this resistant strain that is currently circulating the United States. If the bacterium becomes completely resistant to all oral antibiotics, the only viable solution will be an intravenous administration.
Only 275 cases of this resistant strain have been reported in the United States in the past year, but Scientific American writer Rebecca Harrington does not think this is an accurate census. All Shigella cases are supposed to be reported to the CDC, but many infected people do not seek out medical attention and those who do are occasionally not tested for the bacterium, skewing the reported numbers. There are even more obstacles that need to be overcome once a case has been reported. Lab tests can take weeks to return a result and by the time the diagnosis is confirmed, the patient may have already recovered on his or her own. The good news, however, is that genetic testing will soon replace the time-consuming bacteria identification process. Doctors will be able to confirm diagnoses much earlier and patients will regain their health much sooner.
Once a bacterium becomes resistant to an antibiotic, there are two possible courses of action: (1) wait thousands of years for the human body to evolve or (2) turn to another antibiotic. Clearly, the latter is ideal. The result is the proliferation of bacteria that learn to adapt as quickly as humans introduce new antibiotics. When dealing with Shigella, the CDC recommends antibiotics be prescribed only to the most severe cases to avoid as much bacterial adaptation as possible. It is difficult for a sick patient to leave the doctor’s office without a prescription, but it is necessary to stop the outbreak of drug-resistant bacteria. Although many strains of resistant bacteria are not deadly or widespread, the possibility of a fatal bacterial resistance epidemic is very real. The most viable way to hinder bacterial resistance is simple: stop the antibiotic abuse.
1 Harrington, R. (n.d.). Highly Contagious, Antibiotic-Resistant Food Poisoning Establishes U.S. Presence [Infographic]. Retrieved May 31, 2015, from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/highly-contagious-antibiotic-resistant-food-poisoning-establishes-u-s-presence/
2 Antibiotic/Antimicrobial Resistance. (2015, May 7). Retrieved June 21, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/