Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health care, food production and security, and life expectancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Overuse and misuse of antibiotics is a serious global issue,” says Dr. Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Research Group. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial, parasitic and fungal infections. They do not help viral illnesses, such as colds, flu and most sore throats.
“Some of the problem may stem from overuse of antibiotics everywhere in the world but particularly overseas where you can purchase antibiotics over the counter. And in the U.S., we’ve had over-prescribing of antibiotics. This is very dangerous,” says Dr. Poland. “These bacteria can and do become drug-resistant to the point where, in some diseases, we have no real treatment to offer.”
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“Most of the time, there are antibiotics we can use. But we’re having to use antibiotics that you have to be in the hospital to receive, and that have significant side effects and have tremendous cost associated with them,” says Dr. Poland. Antibiotic resistance causes 2 million infections and 23,000 deaths per year in the U.S. alone, according to the CDC.
There is work being done internationally to combat the issue says Dr. Poland.
“One is the development of new antibiotics, and the second is what’s called 'stewardship of antibiotics,' using the right antibiotic for the right type of infection not broad-spectrum antibiotics and not using them indiscriminately.”
Dr. Poland says we live in a culture where people have colds, they want doctors to give them antibiotics even though antibiotics do zero good against viruses. “We don’t want to be prescribing antibiotics for a viral upper respiratory infection. You just recover over time on your own. Now, if there’s a complication, that can be a different story, but we have to use them wisely.”