Too Much of a Good Thing

October 20, 2023 Providence News Team

The growing danger of antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Cold and flu season means missed school, missed work, and at least one trip to the doctor to ask for an antibiotic. While effective only against certain bacteria, half of all antibiotic prescriptions are written for illnesses caused by viruses, such as colds, flu, and sinus infections. The misuse of antibiotics to treat conditions they can’t possibly cure is a major reason for the alarming rise in “superbugs,” bacteria that have developed immunity to most antibiotics.

“Antibiotics are losing their effectiveness at a rate that is alarming and irreversible,” says Claudia Skinner, DNP, RN, CIC, an expert in infection prevention at St. Jude Medical Center, who explains that the overuse of antibiotics has allowed bacteria to develop genetic protection. “Once bacteria has gained immunity from antibiotics, it can pass along this resistance to other bacteria, much like students passing notes.”

Experts worry that if the current trend continues, the medicine cabinet may be empty when it’s needed most. “The more often you take antibiotics, the more likely you will develop antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” Claudia says, explaining that while drug sensitive and beneficial bacteria are both killed by the antibiotic, resistant germs are left to grow, multiply, and pass on their immunity.

“Patients want to leave a doctor’s appointment with a solution, and for many that means a prescription,” explains Claudia. “But the overuse of these wonder drugs is proving to be deadly.” 

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