Some of the drugs humans take to help them heal could be threatening lives at the same time.
Every time people take an antibiotic, they’re giving the bacteria it’s fighting a chance to build up resistance, said Sean Richards, associate professor of biological and environmental sciences at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
So when excess antibiotics are unleashed into the environment through the water supply, Dr. Richards said, they not only kill off the healthy bacteria that is supposed to exist in nature but invite bacterial infections ranging from a routine case of strep throat to a deadly staph infection such as MRSA to adapt to beat the drugs.
“This is the scariest part,” said Dr. Richards, who along with UTC associate chemistry professor Steven Symes recently published a study showing that at least 13 common drugs are floating around in the Tennessee River.
Two of the four most-prevalent drugs were antibiotics, which “cause resistance to build up quicker, and that’s a huge, huge issue,” Dr. Richards explained.
Running out of Infection fighters
“There are many that speculate there will be a time in the not-too-distant future when we have bacteria that we can’t control with antibiotics because they’re so resistant, and we don’t have the pharmaceuticals to kill them anymore,” he said.
* Take all of your medicine, on time, as prescribed. Don’t save leftovers for future use.
* Don’t use anyone else’s antibiotics.
* If your doctor tells you that you don’t need an antibiotic, don’t insist on one. They are not effective for viral infections, only for bacterial infections. If you have a viral infection, follow the doctor’s direction on whatever else can make you feel better, such as over-the-counter medicine, staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest.
Source: Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department
Marion Kainer, infectious diseases physician for the Tennessee Department of Health, said we’re running out of drugs to use because so many bacteria have built up resistance.
“In some cases, for some sick patients, we’re having to go back and use antibiotics in hospitals that we haven’t used in 40 years because they’re so toxic and they have lots and lots of side effects. But they’re the only thing that can help,” she said.
Even if an antibiotic kills most of the bacteria it is targeting, Dr. Kainer explained, there may be a few bacteria left over that are resistant to the drug because of a small genetic mutation. Those survive and multiply.
“Bugs are really genetically superior to us,” she said. “They can multiply very, very rapidly, so they can develop resistance a whole lot faster than we can develop new antibiotics.”
Antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections but not viral infections, Dr. Kainer said. But “people feel miserable with viruses, and they want to get help,” she said.
“Doctors may think that to please them, they need to prescribe an antibiotic, even though it doesn’t actually help,” she said. “They’re concerned that maybe if they don’t do that, the patient will just go see the doctor down the road.”