In 1928, Alexander Fleming, professor of bacteriology at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, discovered the first true antibiotic – penicillin.
Prior to his discovery that penicillin could kill harmful strains of bacteria such as streptococcus and meningococcus, doctors would try all sorts of sometimes harmful strategies to heal infections. These included:
- Bloodletting: Doctors would use slugs or make incisions in the skin, because many infections were thought to be caused by an excess of blood.
- Mercury: Some actually thought that the heavy metal, highly toxic if ingested, would make them immortal. Doctors often prescribed this peculiar solution for maladies like syphilis.
- Animal dung: Many doctors swore on animal excrement as a cure for various illnesses. According to history.com they may not have been completely incorrect- “research shows the microflora found in some types of animal dung contain antibiotic substances.” That may be so, but thankfully medicine has become a bit more advanced.
Antibiotics are widely used in modern medicine for anything from colds, the flu, ear infections and urinary tract infections. However, they may be becoming overused, as bacteria are becoming more and more resistant to the most common antibiotics. Oftentimes antibiotics are prescribed for certain illnesses incorrectly, which further contributes to this crisis.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “estimates more than two million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant organisms, resulting in approximately 23,000 deaths annually.” Clearly, this is an alarming number.
The CDC also reports that as much as 50 percent of antibiotics administered in an acute care setting are unnecessary. The misuse of antibiotics can cause side effects like Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection, which can lead to severe diarrhea, cramping and rapid heart rate among other things. C. diff can progress to dehydration, sepsis and even death.
What is the solution? In recent years, antibiotic stewardship has shown positive results.
What is antibiotic, or antimicrobial, stewardship?
It is a program that was born in order to promote the correct use of antibiotics and reduce resistance to them in the general population. This program advocates thorough education to healthcare providers like doctors and nurses so that they understand the appropriate uses for antibiotics, the proper doses and when they are not needed.
Antibiotic stewardship is crucial for patient health and will save lives. In the long run, these antibiotic-resistant infections will become less of a risk and less harmful to people.
Dr. Gilbert F. Douglas, IV, D.O. and his staff are here to answer any questions you may have.