Every day people like you and me can contribute to this antibiotic resistance problem, and we’ve probably all done it in the past, whether we realize it or not. This may not be what we set out to do, but either our lack of awareness or physical desperation leads us to demand antibiotics for illnesses that are not to be treated by antibiotics.
This past week is a perfect example of how antibiotic resistance can start.
During the last week of December, both my husband and I came down with severe colds. Our bodies were beseiged by a nasty cold virus that started out as an overnight sore throat. Within a day, the “bug” had inflicted our bodies with bodyaches, headaches, severe nasal congestion, sore throat, and sinus pressure that made us feel like our heads were being sat on. My skin hurt from being in contact with clothes. We had a week of sleepless nights and constant day-time misery. I walked around with a box of tissues and a trashcan (for the tissues) wherever I parked myself in the house.
Then my husband said he probably needed antibiotics. In the past, I’ve worked in the infectious disease field in the pharmaceutical industry, and my husband (a non medical professional) was familiar with some antibiotics. He asked for a fluoroquinolone – a very strong antibiotic.
Viral infections like colds can last at least seven days. Most people with severe colds get so sick of being so sick, that they start demanding antibiotics from their doctors. Doctors know that antibiotics won’t solve their patients’ colds. Doctors who didn’t want to lose “a customer” or just wanted to get the patient out the door so they could see the next patient would write the antibiotic prescription. Some doctors tried to explain the rationale to a patient who didn’t want to hear why their doctor wouldn’t prescribe antibiotics. The patient could just go to another doctor who would be willing to write an antibiotic prescription.
There are cases where a secondary infection can erupt from the original cold, and this secondary infection is usually bacterial. Antibiotics would work well for the secondary infection. The best way to determine this is for the doctor to do a swab and make sure that you’ve got a bacterial infection, and then treat you with the correct antibiotic. Since my husband has a track record of secondary bacterial infections, we’d keep watching to see if this would happen again. In the meantime, I told my husband no antibiotics – at least not yet, and certainly not a fluoroquinolone. Even though fluoroquinolones can remain an important infectious disease treatment, many fluoroquinolones have been withdrawn from market because their risks of use outweigh the benefits to the patient.
We stocked up on over the counter cold syrup and welcomed the New Year with coughs, aches, and sneezes. It’s been about a week since I first felt that sore throat.
And wouldn’t you know it, I’m starting to feel better.
Resources on Antibiotic Resistance
U.S. FDA’s web page on Antibiotic Resistance.
From the CDC: Get smart and know when antibiotics work.
From the U.K. Department of Health: Bugs & Drugs on the Web – NeLI Antimicrobial Resistance Website.
From wikipedia: Antibiotic Resistance explained.
From the U.K. Department of Health: Policy and guidance on antibiotic resistance.
From U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: The Problem of Antibiotich Resistance.