Many Americans grew up in a time when running to the doctor for a shot of penicillin or a bottle of amoxicillin to clear up a pesky ear infection was commonplace. But antibiotics aren’t the answer to every ailment, and their misuse has had grave global consequences.
“A lot of infections are from a virus and they do not need antibiotics,” said Isabel Valdez, a physician’s assistant and instructor in the department of family and community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “Antibiotics should be respected and used only when necessary and as infrequently as possible. We have to realize that antibiotics are finite … and if we create a resistance, there may be a time when you need an antibiotic and it will not work.”
Because the common cold and flu are both viruses, they do not respond to antibiotics. But many bacterial infections with similar symptoms do require antibiotics— including some forms of pneumonia and strep throat, both of which present with a high fever and sore throat.
Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in human medicine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet as much as half of all antibiotics prescribed are not needed or are not optimally effective because they are not taken as prescribed. Valdez has witnessed this first hand.
“Unfortunately and regrettably, I have seen an abuse of antibiotics,” Valdez said. “I have been in family medicine for 10 years and, very often, patients will come into clinic demanding an antibiotic because they woke up with green mucus or they have a cough.”
Each year in the U.S., at least 2 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection, and at least 23,000 people die, according to the CDC. The World Health Organization estimates that antibiotic resistance will kill 10 million people globally—more than currently die from cancer—by 2050. The superbug crisis could reverse the medical gains of the last century.
“With patients pushing sometimes and the physician wanting to please them, antibiotics are sometimes prescribed when they are not needed,” said Cesar Arias, M.D., Ph.D., professor of infectious diseases at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). “It is important for the public to be aware that if they are taken when they are not needed, it is not only harmful for the patient, but it is also one of the reasons we are in the crisis of superbugs right now.”
Valdez maintains that antibiotics are among “the laziest medicines in the world. They do not help you get rid of the cough or the congestion or the fever. The only thing antibiotics do is kill the bacteria if and when the bacteria is in your system. … When you don’t have the bacteria in your system, you will continue to feel sick and build an immunity to the antibiotic.”
Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, the world’s first mass-produced antibiotic, in 1928. Nearly a century later, scientists and doctors around the world are scrambling to find solutions to growing antibiotic resistance rates.
Infections such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and gonorrhea, which were once successfully treated with antibiotics, are now increasingly untreatable because of antibiotic resistance.
“Bacteria are millions of years old. … If you think about when we started using antibiotics, that is a very short span of time compared to the rest of the world,” Arias said. “In the beginning, they were wonder drugs. Suddenly, injuries of war could be treated, organ transplants are now possible. But as we started using [them], the bacteria started to adapt and become resistant.”
Arias chairs two groups that were created to address this crisis: UTHealth’s Center for Antimicrobial Resistance and Microbial Genomics (CARMiG) and the Gulf Coast Consortium for Antimicrobial Resistance, which gathers researchers from Gulf Coast Consortia and TMC institutions.
“One of the missions in my life is to help people understand that we need to have a lot of respect for antibiotics,” Arias said. “If we use [antibiotics] too much in a non-proper way, we are going to lose them. And if we lose them, we will die.”
“Veterans might be eligible for things they had no idea they were eligible for, no matter what age,” says Kim, an Army National Guard Veteran. She urges Veterans to take advantage of their VA benefits.#ExploreVA health care: https://t.co/0NWKCkAgpl#WomensHistoryMonth
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Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Audie Murphy. By the end of World War II, he became one of the most decorated soldiers in the United States Army.Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, 16-year-old Audie Murphy attempted to enlist with the United States Marine Corps. After being turned down from the Marines for being too short, Audie successfully managed to enlist with the United States Army. He then received basic training at Camp Wolters, Texas and advanced infantry training at Fort Meade, Maryland.Audie began his combat tour in the Mediterranean theater with B Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division under Major General Lucian Truscott. There, he participated in the assault on Arzew, Algeria, the Allied assaults on Sicily, and the invasions of mainland Italy.After the Allied victory over Italy, Audie and the 15th Infantry Regiment joined the Allied push through France. On Jan. 26, 1945, near the village of Holtzwihr in eastern France, Audie’s forward positions came under fierce attack by German forces. Against the onslaught of six Panzer tanks and 250 infantrymen, Audie ordered his men to fall back to better their defenses. Alone, he mounted an abandoned burning tank destroyer and, with a single machine gun, contested the enemy's advance. Wounded in the leg during the heavy fire, Audie remained there for nearly an hour, repelling the attack of German soldiers on three sides and single-handedly killing 50 of them. His courageous performance stalled the German advance and allowed him to lead his men in the counterattack which ultimately drove the enemy from Holtzwihr. For this he was awarded the Medal of Honor.Following the war, Audie had a 21-year acting career, including his performance in the 1955 autobiographical film, To Hell and Back. Throughout his life, Audie struggled with what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by his experiences in Europe. Audie died in 1971 in a plane crash near Catawba, Virginia. He is laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.Today, on National Medal of Honor Day, we honor his service.