Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why You Don't Want Antibiotics to Treat Every Illness

VRE.

Vancomycin Resistant Enterococcus.

This is one of those bugs that they warned us about twenty years ago, when scientists said that our society uses antibiotics far too often. Many times, an illness that should have been treated with other means, or allowed to run the course naturally, would result in a prescription for Penicillin, Erythromycin, Biaxin, Cippro and increasingly more powerful drugs.

I'm one of those people who heeded those warnings. The annual bout of bronchitis would get pretty severe before the doctor and I would agree that it was time for a course of Biaxin. My doctors only would go that route because, as an asthmatic, my doctor feared it turning into pneumonia if left untreated. (This was always after OTC and prescription strength cough remedies)

When we had kids, Ed and I were the rare parents who would be asking if we could skip the antibiotics for the ear infections. Part of that was the fear of overuse, and part was due to Ed's family seeming to develop resistance to drug efficacy fairly quickly. Let's save those drugs for when they are really needed, especially when there's allergies to one of those classes of antibiotics involved. For me, it's the Penicillin class and for Ed's family, it's the Sulfa class.

When you have a family member prone to a lot of infections and doctors who don't have many options to treat them, eventually the big guns come out. In the past year, several hospitalizations involved Vancomycin, an antibiotic that until recently was the drug of last resort.

Those infections mutate. Eventually, they laugh at the big gun pointed at them because they've become invincible. For the average person, this may not be an issue for now. However, if you've got multiple health issues, and you add this to the laundry list-it is not a good thing. There are now only two antibiotics left that are stronger than Vancomycin.

Alas, if they're being used to treat VRE, this means that if a patient who contracts a more serious infection might not have a big gun left to use. That's the situation we're witnessing right now. Jane has contracted VRE (which is currently only transmitted in the hospital setting due to poor hygiene practices in catheterization)
and it scares the crap out of me. Those other antibiotics just can't keep up when they've been prescribed to treat the nearly constant infections she is prone to contracting.

When Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, it was considered a wonder drug. Less than a hundred years later, we've got dozens of antibiotics to treat all manner of illnesses. I'll bet he would be aghast at how many microbes there are that laugh at these medications.

0 People talked back: