By Luis Castagnini, MD
Section Chief, Department of Infectious Diseases
Baylor College of Medicine
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio
Ruchi Kaushik, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor, Pediatrics
Baylor College of Medicine
Medical Director, The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio Blog
The discovery of antibiotics almost a century ago is considered one of the greatest medical advancements in human history. An infection considered minor today (i.e. infected wound or ear infection) was devastating or even fatal before 1928, when Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. This discovery allowed health care providers to treat and cure bacterial infections like pneumonia or skin infections in a relatively safe manner. These marvelous chemicals are now used routinely in medical practices all over the world and have changed the way we live our lives.
Unfortunately, during the last few decades, we have seen the rise of antibiotic resistance. The ability of bacteria to escape unharmed from the effects of these medications designed to kill them is now pervasive and a public health threat. Sir Alexander Fleming said it himself in 1945, shortly after he received the Nobel Prize in Medicine,
“The thoughtless person playing with penicillin treatment is morally responsible for the death of the man who succumbs to infection with the penicillin-resistant organism.”
A few important points about antibiotics and resistance:
1) Resistance can spread from one bacteria to another and also from person to person, even if the infected individual is unaware of it.
2) Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 2 million infections and 23,000 deaths occur secondary to resistant bacteria in the US. Many more succumb to its indirect effects.
3) The emergence of bacterial resistance can cost our healthcare system up to billions of dollars.
4) Almost one out of every three antibiotics prescribed in clinics all across America is considered inappropriate or unnecessary; for example, the common cold or the flu are caused by viruses and do not respond to antibiotics. Other infections like bronchitis, sore throats and ear infections may not require treatment with antibiotics.
What can you do to help decrease the use of antibiotics and curb the emergence of resistance?
- Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands!
- Ensure you and your family are up to date on all recommended vaccinations.
- Cover your cough or sneeze (preferably with the crook of your elbow, not into your hands).
- When ill, make sure you do not expose others. Staying home and get adequate rest and nutrition.
- When seeking care for your child be sure to do so in a clinic, urgent care, or emergency department with personnel trained in pediatric care – as they are most familiar with which illnesses do and do not need antibiotics.
During the week of November 12, we celebrate “Antibiotic Awareness Week.” This is a national effort to improve the way we use antibiotics and to help stop the rise of resistance in our hospitals and communities. During this time we want to celebrate this amazing scientific discovery and make our community aware of the threat of bacterial resistance. We can all contribute to a better future by understanding the important role antibiotics have in our healthcare and by making smart antibiotic prescribing a priority.
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio has specially trained doctors and nurses in all of its emergency facilities, find the location nearest you by visiting www.chofsa.org/emergency. If you need a pediatrician for your child, please visit www.chofsa.org/findadoc.