You’ve been coughing and congested for the past week so you decide to see a doctor; he cannot quite pinpoint what’s wrong with you, so he prescribes you some general antibiotics. You take a few doses and start to feel better over the next couple of days, so you stop the antibiotics and continue on with your life. Sounds typical, right? Maybe, but you and your doctor have just contributed to the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria in potentially two different ways. One, you probably had a viral cold and did not need the antibiotics in the first place. Two, you did not even finish your treatment. If you did have a bacterial infection, the antibiotic was only able to kill the weakest of the bacteria, leaving behind only the strong ones that can now multiply to create more antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Overprescription and improper use of antibiotics are contributing to the major issue of antibiotic resistance, which could one day lead to currently “curable” illnesses such as pneumonia and tuberculosis becoming incurable.
Part of the problem is that some patients rate doctors more highly for prescribing antibiotics than not, likely because the patient is receiving a more concrete solution than being told they have a viral infection and should get some rest. In fact, a study showed that 90 percent of patients give doctors a five star rating after being prescribed an antibiotic, as opposed to the 72 percent who give five stars without receiving a prescription. This motivates the overprescription of antibiotics by doctors looking to boost patient satisfaction. Additionally, doctors may default to antibiotics when the diagnosis is unclear in a mistaken attempt to protect the patient.
Physicians are not solely to blame in this situation; so are their patients. Some patients may pressure their doctor into prescribing antibiotics, further explaining the discrepancy between the numbers of stellar ratings given by patients who either did or did not receive antibiotics. Patients seem to be more satisfied overall after getting antibiotics and may thus push for unnecessary prescription. Also, antibiotic misuse is common, with many people not finishing their treatment, skipping doses, taking old unfinished medication, or using someone else’s prescription.
Doctors should resist the temptation to prescribe antibiotics when it is not clear if a bacteria is causing a patient’s symptoms. Likewise, patients should advocate for themselves when visiting their doctors and express their concerns about antibiotic resistance. They should not attempt to pressure their doctors into writing unneeded prescriptions. If their illness does require treatment with antibiotics, patients should safely and properly adhere to their course of treatment.
Fortunately, researchers are currently looking for solutions to the antibiotic resistance that already exists. One such solution involves utilizing a different kind of bacteria classified as “predatory” that could target antibiotic resistant bacteria. One such predator, Bdellovibrio, can attack and consume several types of bacteria up to six times its size. The sudden and violent nature of this bacteria’s predation resists the possibility of any resistance in the prey bacteria. Therefore, it is possible that Bdellovibrio could one day be used to diminish the amount of a particularly resistant strain of bacteria in a human.
Antibiotic resistance will proceed inevitably because it is impossible for antibiotics to kill every single harmful bacterium and because resistance results from a number of controllable and uncontrollable factors. However, just as antibiotics were recently discovered as a solution to bacterial infection, there is also hope of a solution to antibiotic resistance. In the meantime, if doctors and patients alike become more educated on proper antibiotic prescription and use, the process of antibiotic resistance will likely cease to accelerate at such an alarming rate.
Veronica Eskander is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.