Rise of the "Super Bug"

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A child cries, “Mommy, I don’t feel good.”
“Okay, baby, we’ll get you some medicine.”, replies a mother.
All too often that medicine she is talking about will be antibiotics, and the reason the child is feeling bad is because they have a cold or the flu, which is a viral infection not a bacterial infection. Antibiotics are made to treat bacterial infections such as strep throat, pneumonia, whooping cough, and acne. The misuse and over use of antibiotics is causing antibiotic-resistant infections or “super bugs” to surface.

In 1967, penicillin-resistant pneumonia, called pneumococcus, surfaced in a small remote village in Papua, New Guinea. Around the same time, American military personal in southeast Asia were acquiring penicillin-resistant gonorrhea from prostitutes. Then in 1983, a hospital recorded an intestinal infection caused by the bacterium Enterococcus faccium. This bacteria joined the already growing list of “super bugs” learning to outwit penicillin (Lewis).

Antibiotic resistance spreads very fast. Between 1979 and 1987, of a large number of patients infected with pneumococcus, only .02% were penicillin resistant. The CDC’s survey included 13 hospitals in 12 states. In 1994, 6.6 percent of pneumococcus strains were resistant. In 1992, 13,300 hospital patients died because of resistant (bacterial) infections (Lewis).

There are multiple ways bacteria can become resistant. They all involve changes in the bacteria’s DNA. Bacterial genes can mutate, just like larger organisms’ genes can mutate. Some of these changes happen randomly, some because of chemical or radiation exposure. No one is sure why the genes change. Bacteria with a changed gene is more likely to survive and multiply when antibiotics are around. This is more likely to happen if the amount of antibiotics around isn’t enough to kill the bacteria quickly. This happens if you don’t take enough antibiotics to keep the levels of it in your body high, or you stop taking it too soon (Antibiotic Resistance). Although antibiotic resistance is a natural phenomenon, society is factoring into the problem. The major factors are increasing infection transmission, along with the misuse of antibiotics (Lewis). Not all bacteria are harmful, though; in fact, less than one percent cause disease (Germs). But harmless bacteria can mutate just like harmful bacteria. This harmless bacteria can build immunity to antibiotics and then “trade” that gene with a harmful bacteria (Antibiotic Resistance).

Though some people obviously need to be treated with antibiotics, experts are concerned that these powerful drugs are being misused. “Many consumers have an expectation that when they’re ill, antibiotics are the answer. They put pressure on the physician to prescribe them. Most of the time the infection is viral, and antibiotics are not the answer.”, says Michael Blum, M.D. (Lewis). That is why you cannot demand antibiotics when your doctor says they are not needed (Get Smart). “Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses.” Antibiotics will not help with Colds, the Flu, most coughs and Bronchitis, sore throats (except those resulting from strep throat), and some ear infections (About Antibiotic Resistance).

Many people are beginning to take antibiotics for granted. A child develops strep throat or an ear infection, and soon a bottle of pink medicine makes everything better. The next time they feel under the weather they want more “pink medicine”. Or an adult suffers from a sinus headache, which antibiotics control quickly. The next time they get a headache, they want more antibiotics (Lewis). “Each antibiotic is only effective for certain types of infections.” That is why only a doctor should decide which antibiotics will work the best, with the symptoms you have (Antibiotics).

Another problem with antibiotic use is when a patient starts to feel better they will often times stop taking the drug before they are supposed to. This...
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