I think I blew an opportunity last week.
Four buddies and I were in New Brunswick, Canada, on the Restigouche River, for our yearly attempt to catch an Atlantic salmon. Don’t worry, even if we HAD caught one, we throw them all back. It’s called catch and release but first you need to catch. Not so this year!
The lodge holds 10 people in simple accommodation. However, the food is magnificent
I shared my canoe with a retired police officer from a Toronto suburb. We met this fascinating guy on a previous trip. He’s an obsessed salmon fisherman, has tons of antique equipment he deals in as hobby and seems to have fished every river in North America. Our guide was a New Brunswick native, equally obsessed and colorful. They shared a characteristic — they both knew everything about everything.
Now, that’s interesting because I, you see, certainly do know everything about most things. I blew my chance to get their answers to the questions I haven’t figured out; like the meaning of life, are we alone in the universe? What’s the stock market going to do? Where are the fish and are the “superbugs” going to end human life?
When you hear the term “superbug” you may imagine a comic book about Superman’s next arch nemesis, but the superbug doctors are talking about may be much scarier.
A superbug is bacteria with genetic changes that make it resistant to even our most effective antibiotics.
Recently, a Pennsylvania woman with a urinary tract infection was found to have E. coli resistant to the “last resort” antibiotic called colistin. This particular E. coli strain’s genetic mutation that made it resistant to colistin is called mcr-1.
Although ‘superbug’ and ‘antibiotic resistant’ sound terrifying, don’t panic. Superbugs aren’t resistant to all antibiotics when used in combinations.
The Pennsylvania woman’s superbug was treated with other antibiotics and doesn’t appear to be spreading at epidemic proportions. However, it could mean trouble in the future.
We relied on antibiotics to save millions of lives around the world since the 1928 discovery of penicillin. We rely on antibiotics to prevent infections during chemotherapy, organ transplants, operations and childbirth. The arrival of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is reversing the medical and healthcare advances we’ve made since then.
The emergence of drug-resistant bacteria means increasingly limited, expensive and potentially nonexistent drug choices to treat bacterial infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s estimated that drug-resistant bacteria cause 2 million illnesses and approximately 23,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.
Bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics by evolving naturally through gene mutations or by transferring their drug-resistant properties to other bacteria. It’s actually expected and normal that bacteria develop resistance to a drug – but it’s the way we use drugs that affects how quickly and to what extent drug resistance occurs.
One way this happens is by the misuse or overuse of antibiotics.
Antibiotics are designed to treat bacterial, not viral infections. If you take an antibiotic when you have a viral infection, such as a cold, flu or sore throat, the antibiotic attacks bacteria in your body, even the harmless bacteria we depend on for healthy digestion and to prevent the overgrowth of “bad” germs.
Taking an antibiotic when you don’t need it can promote antibiotic-resistance in bacteria, which can then share that property with other bacteria.
If you ever took an antibiotic, it probably seemed like a miracle cure when you started feeling better. However, they’re not the answer to all illnesses.
Reduce the development of antibiotic resistance by:
* Using antibiotics only as your doctor prescribes
* Taking the appropriate dose and completing your entire course of treatment
* Throw away leftover antibiotics
* Never take antibiotics leftover or prescribed to someone else
* Do not purchase antibiotics abroad or online for self-diagnosed illnesses
* Don’t pressure your doctor into prescribing an antibiotic
* Practice good hygiene by keeping your hands clean, washing fruit and vegetables, and keeping kitchen surfaces clean
* Get recommended vaccines
The Restigouche salmon are safe from the five of us from NEPA for another year. Vacation beard is shaved off. The extra three pounds from breakfasts and lunches suitable for lumberjacks is gone. I still need a few answers and we’re concerned, but not freaked out about resistant bacteria.
Help you doctor help us all by using antibiotics appropriately.
Dr. Alfred Casale is chairman of surgery for the Geisinger Heart Institute, co-director of the Cardiovascular Service Line for the Geisinger Health System and Associate Chief Medical Officer for the Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center. Readers may write to him via [email protected]