Antibiotic Awareness is Key to Stopping Superbugs

4 min read

About the Author

Kate graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from San Diego State University. She is the Content Manager at Uqora and is responsible for Uqora's social media, newsletters and contributing to the UTI Learning Center.

More about this author

About the author

Kate graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from San Diego State University. She is the Content Manager at Uqora and is responsible for Uqora's social media, newsletters and contributing to the UTI Learning Center.

More about this author

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), over 30% of antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily in outpatient settings.

Let’s get one thing straight first: antibiotics are incredible, life-saving drugs. They’re one of the many miracles of modern medicine, and we’re fortunate to have access to them. But as Voltaire (and Uncle Ben in Spiderman) said: with great power comes great responsibility. And in the case of antibiotics, that responsibility is massive because the risk of drug resistance is so great.

Resistance rates to common antibiotics are rapidly growing in the US and globally.


Antibiotic overuse and drug resistance

Overuse of antibiotics in humans and livestock has led to the rise of “superbugs” that have adapted and outwitted frontline drugs that used to successfully treat them. In turn, this has caused a surge of drug-resistant infections worldwide. In the United States alone, there are more than 2.8 million annual infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) (1). And more than 35,000 people die as a direct result of these infections.

If you’ve ever experienced a drug-resistant infection yourself, then you know how scary and frustrating it is to battle an ever-adapting, microscopic enemy. It can make you feel powerless. That fear is echoed by the medical community and organizations worldwide that are working to raise awareness around antibiotics and develop alternative treatments to common infections.

Through online research and talking with your doctor, you can educate yourself on the risks of resistance to antibiotics, especially those you have taken multiple times.


How to be “antibiotics aware”

Here are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones from drug-resistant infections.

  • Stay informed. Read up on antibiotic resistance and follow organizations like the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO), which regularly share the latest research and guidance on antibiotic resistance (2,3).
  • Always ask for labs. It’s common to walk out of a doctor’s office with a prescription before the tests are in, especially if you’re a relatively healthy person with no history of antibiotic resistance. But “common” is not necessarily safe. According to the CDC, over 30% of antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily in outpatient settings. Requesting labs before treatment is just smart (1).
  • Seek out alternative treatments for mild infections. If you’re dealing with a sinus or ear infection, you may not need antibiotics to kick it. At-home remedies and over-the-counter drugs can often take on mild infections, helping you avoid unnecessary drugs. Again, always check with your doctor first before self-treating — and don’t wait to get help if your symptoms don’t improve quickly.
  • Take antibiotics exactly as prescribed. Never stop a course of antibiotics partway through, even if your symptoms have disappeared. Taking the full course gives you the best odds of eliminating all the infection-causing bacteria and regaining health.
  • Practice ongoing prevention. Wash your hands regularly. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Get vaccinated. Stay home from work and school when you’re sick. Thoroughly clean food preparation surfaces, especially when cooking meat and poultry.

More and more UTIs are caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria and may require the use of different antibiotics.


What happens if antibiotics don’t work for a UTI?

The increase of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is making it more difficult for doctors to effectively treat what used to be simple urinary tract infections. The New York Times called UTIs “the single biggest risk to healthy people from drug-resistant germs.” When bacteria develop a resistance to a drug and outlive a round of antibiotics, they can then hide out and multiply in the urinary tract, later causing “reinfections" (4).

Since getting one UTI makes you more susceptible to future infections, this becomes a troubling cycling for many patients. People who struggle with recurrent UTIs may require multiple rounds of antibiotics to treat one stubborn infection. Plus, leaving a UTI untreated can cause more serious issues, like kidney infections, renal damage, and, in rare cases, sepsis — a life-threatening condition in which the body’s defense mechanisms release chemicals that can cause septic shock and effect multiple organ systems.

While most healthy people will walk away from a UTI relatively unscathed, certain populations — like the elderly and immunocompromised individuals — face a much higher risk of complications. Knowing the common symptoms of septic shock can save your life or a loved one’s.

Common symptoms of septic shock:

  • Dangerously low blood pressure
  • Increase in respiratory rate
  • Altered mental state

Can you treat a UTI without antibiotics?

In short: no, not today. Hopefully we’ll see innovations in UTI treatment in the near future, but at the moment, antibiotics are the only known effective treatment for UTIs. That said, there are more natural methods you can try to reduce your risk and prevent recurrent infections.

References

1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Antibiotic Awareness Week. November, 2019.

2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Antibiotic / Antimicrobial Resistance. July, 2020.

3. World Health Organization. Health Topics - Antimicrobial Resistance. Accessed September, 2020.

4. Richtel, Matt. Urinary Tract Infections Affect Millions. The Cures are Faltering. The New York Times. July, 2019.


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