It’s becoming all too common of a tale in Chicago, Illinois and across the country- you go into your hospital for a simple procedure and end up being contaminated by an antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The prevalence of these resistant infections occurs more and more and is not going away any time soon.
Perhaps the most well-known of these is methicillin-resistant Staphylococus aureus (MRSA), a type of “staph” infection that is resistant to the broad spectrum antibiotics typically used to treat it. However, unlike many of the other superbugs coming to light, MRSA can be treated with alternate antibiotics. But the fear is that in time MRSA will also become resistant to these alternative antibiotics.
And while MRSA can still be treated by current medications, there are numerous “superbugs” out there that are virtually untreatable. One of these is Klebsiella, a bacteria similar to MRSA, except that it has an extra cellular layer that blocks out antibiotics that MRSA lets in. And strains resembling Klebsiella are becoming more prevalent, both in hospitals and within our community.
Why Are Bacteria Becoming Resistant to Antibiotics?
Since the introduction of antibiotics in the mid-twentieth century, bacterial infections were suddenly curable. Antibiotics soon became a cure-all and were prescribed to treat not only bacterial infections, but also for viral infections, even though antibiotics have no effect on them. Because of the widespread use of antibiotics, the bacteria soon began developing resistances and the common antibiotics no longer worked.
For awhile drug companies continued to develop new antibiotics to treat these mutations. Eventually, however, many of these sames pharmaceuticals withdrew from this area as the complexity of the research increased and profits decreased. So now we are not only seeing more and more bacteria that are developing resistances to common antibiotics, but we are developing fewer new treatments for these new strains. In short, we are quickly returning to the days before antibiotics were even invented- when bacterial infections were untreatable.
They’re Scary and They’re Out There- Now What?
Unfortunately, there is not any one simple solution. Current research is being devoted to not only developing new drugs to fight the bacteria infections, but also new ways to do it. Some scientists are attempting to alter bacteria to make them noninvasive and nondestructive so that they are no longer harmful within our bodies. Others are working on altering “quorum sensing”, which could help to trigger our immune system earlier so that our bodies begin to fight the bacteria.
And while both of these solutions could be helpful in fighting bacterial infections, critics don’t see a rosy outlook for the future. Instead they feel that resistant bacteria are here to stay and we can only slow the rate at which bacteria develop resistance, but that conquering them may be extremely difficult.
Groups like ESKAPE (Enterococcus faecium, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Acinetobacter baumanni, Pseudonomas aeruginosa, and Enterobacter species) are lobbying Congress to pass laws that would devote funding for bacteria research while disseminating information on how to limit the spread of hospital-acquired infections and slow down antibiotic resistance. One such initiative is the Strategies to Address Antimicrobial Resistance Act.
What Can I Do?
A simple way to effectively slow the rate of resistance is to ensure that you only receive antibiotics when necessary. If you have a cold with a cough and runny nose, think before allowing your doctor to immediately prescribe antibiotics. A 1998 study showed that 55% of all patients prescribed antibiotics for respiratory infection did not need the antibiotics.
Hospitals are a breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, in part because those who are weaker are more prone to bacterial infections. Yet bacteria like MRSA, which began in ICUs amongst patients who had undergone major surgery, are becoming common throughout our communities. MRSA outbreaks have occurred with Katrina victims, and even among a Naperville high school football team.
While there is no quick solution, this epidemic is receiving more attention. As we learn more and people become more educated about the risks associated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria we will be better equipped to deal with them.
Kreisman Law Offices has been practicing medical malpractice law in Illinois for over 30 years, serving Chicago and Cook County, including Morton Grove, Franklin Park, Northfield, and Western Springs.
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