Some top doctors are sounding the alarm over antibiotics as more and more strains of drug-resistant bacteria are spreading. The associate director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently told PBS' Frontline that "we're in the post-antibiotic era" because of new bacteria strains that are resistant or in some cases even immune to antibiotics. For that reason, some infections and diseases that were treatable with simple antibiotics 10 or 20 years ago now require much more intense treatment or hospitalization.
Dr. Barbara Murray with the UT Health Science Center Medical School in Houston, says the big problem is that many of these medications are being wrongly prescribed or over-prescribed. "Essentially all of our colds, most of the earaches in kids, and most of our respiratory illnesses are viruses and they do not respond to antibiotics," she tells KTRH. That overuse of antibiotics has dulled their effectiveness over the years. In addition, new strains of powerful bacteria are forming that manage to stay a step ahead of some medications. Dr. Murray says some of these bacteria can spread easily, even among healthy people. "Maybe it's just on our skin and it's not going to cause us a problem, but then we spread it to other people, and you never know when you're going to get sick or get in an auto accident and have to go into the ICU," she explains.
As for what to do about this problem, the most obvious solution is for the pharmaceutical industry to develop new vaccines and new, improved antibiotics to stay ahead of the bacteria, according to Dr. Murray. But that is easier said than done, especially because there isn't a big incentive for drug companies to develop new antibiotics. "The economic realities are that it's not profitable for them to be in the antibiotic development field anymore," says Dr. Murray. She would like to see new incentives for pharmaceutical companies to produce newer and better antibiotics. Until that happens, the best weapon is good old-fashioned prevention through cleanliness and vigilance. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," says Dr. Murray. "So if you can prevent a disease, then you don't have to worry about whether or not it's antibiotic resistant."