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Antibiotic Resistance: Cultural Issue not Medical Science

We must tackle a cultural problem around overuse of antibiotics.

It doesn’t matter whether we keep coming up with antibiotics: we simply breed for the most drug resistant pathogens by increasing the selective pressure in bacteria. We do this by over-prescribing antibiotics.

But wait. This isn’t necessarily about getting doctors to stop over-prescribing antibiotics. If it were that simple….

When a patient comes in complaining of what a physician judge to be “a cold”, the physician may very well tell the patient, “Go home, sip lots of hot tea and chicken soup, get plenty of rest, and take some decongestant for the symptoms.”

Then that patient says, “But I waited in your damn office for 45 minutes! You’d better get me SOMETHING.”

In other words, the patient EXPECTS the doctor to write a prescription for what the patient perceives to be “more than just” a cold.

If that doctor tries to educate the patient on the broader consequences of antibiotic overuse, the patient may very well continue to demand (DEMAND!) that the doctor write a prescription for an antibiotic (yes, here in the U.S. many patients aren’t afraid to tell doctor what they want prescriptions for). If that doctor refuses, the patient simply goes to another doctor, who is willing to write the prescription.

So I don’t care if we come up with nth generation macrolide / cephalosporin or we engineer a quinolone that won’t cause such serious adverse events that half of the drugs in that class has been pulled off the shelf…

I don’t care if we start ‘designing’ antibiotics that overcome a microbe’s awesome drug-effluxing receptors…

it is only a matter of time that we create enough selective pressure for a bug to breed and mutate into a superbug that not only will clip whatever enzyme an antibiotic uses to disable the superbug’s replication system but will pump and dump that antibiotic faster than you can say “vancomycin”.

The most important thing we can do is to curb society’s demand for antibiotics for conditions that does not warrant antibiotics, and hope that pharmaceutical sciences can catch up with the superbugs.

Updated: June 7, 2014 — 10:19 am

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