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Fighting Antibiotic Resistance Is Not Futile: 8 Steps to Cut Your Risk

Antibiotic-Resistance

Called “one of the world’s most pressing public health problems,” antibiotic resistance refers to when antibiotics like Z-paks and Amoxicillin stop working to fight bacterial infections. More people have died from infections than from all the wars, heart attacks, strokes, and cancers combined; in the United States as well as worldwide, bacterial infections like pneumonia, meningitis, and sepsis are still leading causes of death.

And they’re getting worse.

The Centers For Disease Control estimates that antibiotic resistant infections cause 23,000 deaths and over 2 million cases of illness each year, with a cost to the economy between $20 and $55 billion. All bacteria have become stronger and more resistant to antibiotics over time, like the sexually transmitted Gonorrhea and the diarrhea-causing C. difficile, but some infections, like the recent CRE “superbug,” have become so resistant that they cannot be treated. Last month, the President urged Congress to double the funding to fight antibiotic resistant infections, and released a new plan to reinforce a national strategy.

There are definitely times when antibiotics must be used to fight serious infections and prevent significant ones from worsening. But using antibiotics when the need is low is a big part of the problem. The more the bacteria are exposed to existing antibiotics, the quicker they “strengthen” and the less the antibiotics work to cure the infection — that’s just how bacteria are.

While much of existing antibiotic usage occurs in agriculture (which is why some food corporations like McDonalds, Chipotle Grill, and Chick-fil-A have recently opted out of using beef raised with antibiotics), you can still take steps to minimize your need for antibiotics, and to use them properly when you must.

From the CDC:

Wash Your Hands
Hand washing is like a “do-it-yourself” vaccine—it involves five simple and effective steps (think Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse, Dry) you can take to reduce the spread of diarrheal and respiratory illness so you can stay healthy. Regular hand washing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others.

Stay Up-to-Date with Vaccines
Disease prevention is key to staying healthy. It is always better to prevent a disease than to treat it. Vaccines can protect both the people who receive them and those with whom they come in contact. Vaccines are responsible for the control of many infectious diseases that were once common in this country and around the world, including polio, measles, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), rubella (German measles), mumps, tetanus, and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). Over the years vaccines have prevented countless cases of infectious diseases and saved millions of lives.

Prevent the Spread of Foodborne Infections

Following these simple steps will help keep your family safer from food poisoning at home.

Keep Your Water Safe
Keeping your water safe and how you use your water can prevent infections from occurring.

Prevent the Spread of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Take control and learn effective strategies to reduce STD risk. Know the facts and protect yourself and your partner.

Use Antibiotics the Right Way
Are you aware that colds, flu, most sore throats, and bronchitis are caused by viruses? Did you know that antibiotics do not help fight viruses? It’s true. Plus, taking antibiotics when you have a virus may do more harm than good. Taking antibiotics when they are not needed increases your risk of getting an infection later that resists antibiotic treatment.

Learn When Respiratory Illnesses Need Antibiotics
Antibiotics aren’t always the answer for common respiratory infections. Antibiotics do not fight infections caused by viruses like colds, most sore throats and bronchitis, and some ear infections. Unneeded antibiotics may lead to future antibiotic-resistant infections. Symptom relief might be the best treatment option.

Feel Better with Symptom Relief
Children and adults with viral infections, which antibiotics cannot treat, usually recover when the illness has run its course. Colds, a type of viral infection, can last for up to two weeks. You should keep your healthcare provider informed if your or your child’s illness gets worse or lasts longer than expected. Over-the-counter medicines may help relieve some symptoms.

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Peter L Kim, MD

Dr. Kim,  is the Medical Director of Family Care Centers, Former Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Hoag Hospital, and a recipient of the Physicians of Excellence award from the Orange County Medical Association. He is Board Certified in Family Medicine, and has been practicing in our community for over 20 years. He is an excellent, caring, and well­qualified physician who is dedicated to providing you with superior health care. A native of Los Angeles, he graduated from UCLA and received his medical training at the LAC­USC Medical Center. After completing his residency in Family Medicine, he accepted a sports medicine fellowship at San Jose Medical Center, an affiliate of Stanford University. He enjoys working with patients and families who are training or want to get back into an active lifestyle.

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