Antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest threats facing humankind. In the United States alone, it is estimated that more than two million people each year become sick with resistant infections—with approximately 23,000 deaths.¹ Every person is susceptible to getting a resistant microorganism infection. Margaret Chan, the WHO Director General, was quoted as saying,
“a post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”
Yet, with the very real threat of things like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE), and carbapenam-resistant Enterobacteriacea (CRE), we are not seeing the medical community more effectively diagnose and treat potential infectious diseases.
The need to change prescribing practices
For many doctors, it is simply too convenient to give broad spectrum antibiotics even if the etiological agent would be treated more effectively with a narrow-spectrum antibiotic—or no antibiotic at all in the case of a viral infection.
It cannot be underestimated that there is significant pressure on the medical community from the patients themselves to walk away with a prescription. Patients demand antibiotics for themselves or their children since that is what they are accustomed to. And if they don’t get satisfaction from one doctor, they will go to one that will give them what they want.
Groups, like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), have gone to great lengths with programs like their “Get Smart” campaign to educate the medical community and general population on the dangers of antibiotic resistance, but the message of a global threat often does not change prescribing behavior when it comes to individual patients.
Antibiotics, the microbiome, and obesity
However, there is a growing field of science called “Healthy Microbiome” that may far more effectively make people understand that there is harm in the overuse of antibiotics. This field of science is uncovering the stunning synergistic relationships we have with the bacteria that live within us—and all the difficulties we can have when that relationship is disrupted.
When you look at an individual, there are roughly 10 times as many bacterial cells as there are human cells! As people take antibiotics, they are not only killing the disease-causing bacteria but the healthy ones as well. We’ve long known that most of the bacteria that live in our gut are actually helpful in doing things like digesting food, but now we are learning far more. For instance, we have seen studies where children that were treated with antibiotics when they were younger got fatter than ones not treated with antibiotics.² Additionally, if we take the gut flora from overweight kids and put that into mice, they become overweight.
Beyond weight gain, an unbalanced microflora has now been linked to things like autoimmune diseases, mood disorders, and even autism.³ Earlier on, there was a study showing that vaccines were linked to autism and that study has been entirely debunked, but some parents still refuse to vaccinate just on fear of this. When they look at the guts of autistic children, they are seeing different concentrations of bacterial species and looking at potential mechanisms on how they may be linked.
So, if the threat of antibiotic resistance seems too abstract for medical professionals and their patients to change prescribing habits, maybe the new science that is showing far more immediate threats to health can make them pause before popping that pill. And to do that, you need the right diagnostic up front so that everyone knows what they are dealing with so you can have confidence in treating accordingly.