Though antibacterial resistance sounds like something that requires fancy science machines and scary chemicals to combat, there are ways that you can prevent antibacterial resistance for yourself and your children at home—no science required.

What is antibacterial resistance?

According to the World Health Organization, antibacterial resistance “develops when a microorganism (bacteria, fungus, virus or parasite) no longer responds to a drug to which it was originally sensitive. This means that standard treatments no longer work; infections are harder or impossible to control; the risk of the spread of infection to others is increased; illness and hospital stays are prolonged, with added economic and social costs; and the risk of death is greater. [1]”

In other words—antibacterial resistance is a big deal.

Antibacterial resistance has become such a worldwide concern that, in September 2016, the United Nations held a meeting to discuss what can be done to combat it on a large scale. They ultimately affirmed the World Health Organization’s “Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance”, which offers a basic plan of action for nations fighting antibacterial resistance (you can read more here).

In order to effectively reduce antibacterial resistance at a national or international level, the reasons for antibacterial resistance first have to be examined at a local level.

Why are bacteria becoming increasingly resistant?

In the United States, antibiotics are to be prescribed by a healthcare provider, who can regulate their use. However, this is not the case everywhere—for example, antibiotics in the Dominican Republic are far less restricted and can be smuggled into the United States to be resold over-the-counter [2].

For people who can’t afford to see a doctor, self-medicating with these smuggled antibiotics may seem like the easiest, most cost-effective route.

In New York, one study found 37 bodegas and small grocery stores which sold antibiotics without a prescription, allowing people to purchase and consume powerful antibiotics with no medical supervision [3]. When a solution to an illness is so readily available, it is unsurprising that people are flocking to bodegas to get inexpensive antibiotics in lieu of seeing a doctor.

However, this affordable solution could be more harmful than helpful.

While antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections, they cannot treat viral infections. Taking antibiotics without knowing which type of infection you have contributes to bacterial resistance by killing off weaker bacteria and leaving antibiotic-resistant bacteria to flourish, all while not treating your sickness.

In the long run, antibacterial resistance leaves us with bacteria that cannot be killed, and therefore illnesses that cannot be cured.

What can you do to fight antibacterial resistance?

The most important step you can take to fight antibacterial resistance is to use antibiotics only under medical supervision. Follow the doctor’s instructions, and do not skip doses. Do not save leftover antibiotics for a future illness or share them with others; discard any that remain after a full course of treatment [4].

It’s also important to practice good hygiene to prevent illness in the first place. Wash your hands and stay current on vaccines. Reducing the need for antibiotics can help to reduce antibacterial resistance.

 

 

 

 

[1] World Health Organization. (2014) Antimicrobial Resistance: Global Report on Surveillance. Geneva, Switzerland.

[2] Markel, H. (2002, November 12). No Prescription for Antibiotics? No Problem. Retrieved September 29, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/12/health/no-prescription-for-antibiotics-no-problem.html

[3] Larson, E. & Grullon-Figueroa, L. J Urban Health (2004) 81: 498. doi:10.1093/jurban/jth133

[4] Mission Critical: Preventing Antibiotic Resistance. (2014). Retrieved October 10, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/features/antibioticresistance/