Sponsored by the Center for Disease Control, the week of November 12 through 18th is dedicated to educating the public about the use of antibiotics and other similar drugs, which are called antimicrobial agents. In use for the past 70 years to treat patients with infectious diseases, these drugs have immensley reduced illness and death from infectious diseases since the 1940’s. Antibiotic use has been very beneficial, and when prescribed and taken correctly, their value in patient care is huge. However, the drugs have been used for so long and so widely that the infectious organisms the antibiotics are designed to kill have adapted to them, making the drugs less effective. Those patients who are infected with antimicrobial-dresistant organisms are more likely to have more expensive and longer hospital stays, and may be more likely to die as a result of the infection.
A growing number of disease-causing organisms, also known as pathogens, are resistant to one or more antimicrobial drugs. A wide range of pathogens—including the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, the viruses that causes influenza, the parasites that cause malaria, and the fungi that cause yeast infections—are becoming resistant to the antimicrobial agents used for treatment. More information about some of the organisms and diseases associated with antimicrobial resistance, may help us understand how important it is to not misuse antibiotics.
Acinetobacter [asz−in−ée−toe–back−ter] is a group of bacteria commonly found in soil and water. While there are many types or “species” of Acinetobacter and all can cause human disease, Acinetobacter baumannii [asz−in−ée−toe–back−ter boe-maa-nee-ie] accounts for about 80% of reported infections. Outbreaks of Acinetobacter infections typically occur in intensive care units and healthcare settings housing very ill patients. Acinetobacter infections rarely occur outside of healthcare settings.
Anthrax is a serious disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, a bacterium that forms spores. Anthrax most commonly occurs in wild and domestic mammalian species, but it can also occur in humans when they are exposed to infected animals or to tissue from infected animals or when anthrax spores are used as a bioterrorist weapon. Some strains of B. anthracis may be naturally resistant to certain antibiotics and not others. In addition, there may be biologically mutant strains that are engineered to be resistant to various antibiotics.
Group B streptococcus
Group B Streptococcus (group B strep) is a type of bacteria that causes illness in newborn babies, the elderly, and adults with other illnesses, such as diabetes or liver disease. Group B strep has shown confirmed resistance to certain antibiotics. (My husband had this B strep bacteria following a hip replacement. He went through six weeks of antibiotic therapy through home health, wearing an IV continuously.)
Klebsiella infections commonly occur among sick patients who are receiving treatment for other conditions. Patients whose care requires devices like ventilators (breathing machines) or intravenous (vein) catheters, and patients who are taking long courses of certain antibiotics are most at risk for Klebsiella infections. Healthy people usually do not get Klebsiella infections.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of bacteria that is resistant to certain antibiotics. These antibiotics include methicillin and other more common antibiotics such as oxacillin, penicillin, and amoxicillin. Serious or life-threatening occurrences of “Staph” infections, including MRSA, occur most frequently among persons in hospitals and healthcare facilities (such as nursing homes and dialysis centers) who have weakened immune systems. Visitors are cautioned to wash their hands before entering and when leaving the room of a patient with Staph infection. Visitors should avoid touching catheters or wound sites on the patient.
MRSA in communities can be widespread and therefore, anyone is at risk. Most people who get MRSA get infections of the skin. Factors that have been associated with the spread of MRSA skin infections include: close skin-to-skin contact. Openings in the skin such as cuts or abrasions, contaminated items and surfaces, crowded living conditions, and poor hygiene. People may be more at risk in locations where these factors are common, such as: athletic facilities, dormitories, military barracks, correctional facilities, and daycare centers.
Preventing MRSA infections is a high priority for CDC. CDC is actively working to reduce MRSA infections in the United States through intensive efforts with healthcare providers to improve infection control practices and prevent HAIs. (Hospital-Associated Infections.) CDC also continually monitors the occurrence of MRSA and other infections in the population. CDC’s work provides the foundation for national and local healthcare-associated prevention efforts.
When you are ill, your physician knows how much antibiotic therapy you should be given. A good rule of thumb to stay healthier this winter is to eat healthy foods, exercise, and wash your hands often, especially when you go in and out of public buildings. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in your purse or car, so you can clean your hands when there’s no water available.