What is antibiotic resistance?
How does antibiotic resistance develop exactly?
- Enzymes in the bacteria eat and deactivate antibiotics.
- Antibiotics are ejected from the bacteria.
- The bacterial wall prevents antibiotics from entering.
- The bacteria adopts a new way of processing energy (as some antibiotics interfere with the energy process).
How do we measure antibiotic resistance?
How resistant have pathogens become?
- Carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE): Some strains of CRE are incurable and are resistant to all antibiotics. Patients who have bloodstream infections with CRE have a mortality rate of 50%. While these infections are rare, researchers are very concerned about the spread of CRE.
- Clostridium difficile (C. difficile): This bacteria usually invades after antibiotics have ruined the normal bacterial ecosystem of the gut, and can cause symptoms like painful, bloody diarrhea and fevers. It’s often found in hospitals and group homes, and frequently is fatal for the elderly. This bacteria is naturally resistant to many antibiotics and generates spores that are particularly tough to kill.
- Neisseria gonorrhoeae: This bacteria is the cause of the second most common infection (Gonorrhoeae) in North America and can lead to serious reproductive complications. While at one time it was thought to be extremely easy to treat, now ~30% of infections are resistant to an antibiotic.
How do you prevent bacteria from developing antibiotic resistance?
- Taking antibiotics responsibly: Take antibiotics only if you have a bacterial infection (not a virus), and pick one that is narrow spectrum so that it doesn’t kill off your healthy bacterial ecosystem. Ask your healthcare professional to help you make these choices. Similarly for animals - narrow spectrum antibiotics should be used to treat bacterial infections, rather than indiscriminate use among healthy animals. Being really selective in how we use antibiotics keeps them from becoming obsolete.
- Trash antibiotics responsibly: Disposal of antibiotics should be done in a way that minimizes the exposure of bacteria living in the environment to the antibiotic. For example, you shouldn’t crush antibiotics or flush them down the toilet. That gives the antibiotics direct access to bacteria living in the soil and water. Instead, two options are to either give them back to a pharmacist for disposal or to put them into a sealed plastic bag and toss it into the trash.