The author is ScIU guest writer Krystiana Krupa, a graduate student in IU’s Department of Anthropology.
So let’s talk about these antibiotic-resistant bacteria, otherwise known as superbugs. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are bacteria that cannot be killed by pharmaceutical drugs that would normally be effective. While many of us know that superbugs exist and are becoming more problematic (think MRSA or E. coli), we often don’t think that they pose any special risk in our personal lives. Are superbugs something we should really be concerned with, or are they another kind of “fake news” in the form of a public health scare? My answer is YES, we should be concerned because NO, they are not “fake news.”
One of the major forces driving antibiotic resistance happens when people are prescribed an antibiotic for a bacterial infection and stop taking their medication before the course of the prescription is finished. This is not unusual, and most people don’t think of it as a big deal. You might go to the doctor because you feel sick; you are diagnosed with a bacterial infection and prescribed an antibiotic to get rid of the infection; you start feeling better, but you still have some pills left. If you feel better, you might say to yourself, why bother taking the rest? Maybe you can save them for another time when you feel sick. BAD MOVE.
Antibiotics work by killing off the least resistant bacteria (the ones that are most sensitive to the drug) first. With prolonged treatment, stronger bacteria will die as well. However, if someone stops taking their medication before the course of antibiotics is completed, those stronger bacteria are left hanging around. This has a few nasty outcomes: one, these bacteria can cause a relapse of the infection; two, the relapse of your infection will be even harder to treat than it was before; and three, these dangerous bacteria can be passed to a new individual, where they will develop further resistance.
I have heard people say that they don’t think that antibiotic resistance is something that they need to be concerned about personally because these kinds of bacteria are more likely to affect children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. However, we are all at risk. Multi-drug resistant bacteria could render many of the antibiotics we commonly use ineffective. Without them, we could face life-threatening infections after any event that exposes us to bacteria or weakens the immune system, including everyday cuts and scrapes, minor surgical procedures, childbirth and many other normal experiences throughout the lifespan.
So how can we confront such a looming crisis? You might begin by considering that any injury could result in a bacterial infection that might cause you prolonged illness or even death. In a future where all bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, this is the public health crisis we would face. You can then take practical steps to eliminate bacteria by washing your hands with antibacterial soap and finishing all courses of antibiotics. This will kill as many bacteria as possible with the methods that we have, and prevent antibiotic-resistant bacteria from taking over. For your own safety, friends, family and people around the world who you will never meet, by taking these simple, practical steps, you can make a difference in the future of public health.