Your body is carrying many strains of bacteria. Some of them are helpful, assisting with the process of digestion. Some of them are neutral, quietly living in your gut. Others can cause serious illnesses that must be addressed. In recent years, bacterial illnesses that were once under control are now on the rise. Bacterial infections like streptococcus, pneumonia, syphilis and tuberculosis are not only more common, but they are also harder to treat with the antibiotics in the current medical arsenal.
The Antibiotic Breakthrough
When Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, it was the beginning of a new age in medicine. Before that period, common bacterial infections like pneumonia and tuberculosis were often deadly. In a few short years, they became easily treatable. In the same way, doctors could reliably handle infections that developed around surgical wound sites. Surgery became a much less life-threatening proposition. Parents were relieved by the ability to handle simple ear infections in a few days rather than having their children suffer through the illness with the potential of hearing loss.
Doctors began prescribing antibiotics at a high rate. They seemed like a miracle cure. Parents demanded antibiotics at the possibility of an ear infection or strep throat, using them as preventative medicine rather than a cure. The overuse of antibiotics has led to bacteria that have developed a resistance to them.
Selecting Stronger Strains
The amount of prescribed antibiotics has had a troubling side effect. Like breeders try to cultivate a specific trait in an animal, we have encouraged the growth of strains of bacteria that are stronger and more resistant to common antibiotics. This means that patients are dealing with chronic bacterial infections that cannot be cured through standard treatments.
When a patient has a bacterial infection, the most common symptoms are fever, pain and inflammation at the infected site. These are signs that your immune system is going into overdrive to fight off the infection. This leaves patients in a weakened state as their bodies are expending a great deal of energy. Sometimes, bacteria do damage to tissue at the infection site. For example, tuberculosis damages lung tissue causing patients to cough blood. Most deaths due to bacterial infection are the result of the body overworking itself in fighting the bacterial growth.
As bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, they become harder to treat, which means that they will be more likely to spread. As scientists monitor chronic illness throughout the world, this is what they are seeing. Bacterial infections such as drug resistant TB are growing in many places. Hospitals are once again working against secondary bacterial infections picked up during a hospital stay.
Strategies for the Future
As the medical world looks to a drug resistant future, researchers are looking at several possible strategies to combat bacteria and prevent chronic illness.
New Antibiotic Medicines
Doctors are looking to find new types of antibiotics. Some of these work in tandem with traditional antibiotics making them more effective. Others are attacking bacteria in new ways to which they have not grown a resistance.
Reduction in Antibiotic Use
To prevent antibiotic resistance, antibiotics may not be the first choice in treating bacterial infections. Doctors are looking at new ways to treat bacterial infections that do not depend on drugs. For some lung infections, doctors will prescribe inhaled steroids to aid breathing and help clear the infection. Some bacterial infections with clear up on their own. For example, your immune system will clear most ear infections in about a week, not much longer than a course of antibiotics.
Learning More About Bacteria
While there are 600,000 cases of drug resistant TB in the world every year, the more startling news it is estimated that two-billion people are carrying TB bacteria. Most of those people will never have any symptoms and never know that they carry the illness. Doctors are studying what makes the difference between an active, symptomatic infection and a dormant infection. They hope to learn if there is a way to control the disease without growing the potential for resistance.
If your doctor denies your request for antibiotics, it is nothing personal. Doctors want to let your immune system do its work and preserve the curing power of antibiotics.
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