Antibiotic resistant diseases are on the rise in the United States, and Utah is far from immune.
The Centers for Disease Control defines the antibiotic resistant problem as a "major blooming public health crisis." Drug resistant bacterial infections affect millions of people worldwide and cause up to 90,000 deaths and billions of dollars in health care costs each year in the United States.
In Utah, antibiotic-resistant infections have become a significant threat, according to state and local health experts.
"People are simply overusing or improperly using antibiotics," said Jeanette Smyth, infection and prevention control director at Ogden Regional Medical Center, in Ogden. "They get a sniffle and want an antibiotic, even though they have a virus. They're taking antibiotics from friends without being properly diagnosed with a bacterial infection. They start taking an antibiotic but then stop taking it because they start to feel better. All of this is causing a build-up of resistance, and we have got to do more about it."
Dustin Waters, infectious disease pharmacist at McKay-Dee Hospital, in Ogden, said even though people have been told over and over again to wash their hands, many still aren't doing so, or they're not doing it the right way.
"Washing your hands thoroughly not only helps prevent the spread of bacteria, it helps us from getting infected ourselves," he said. "And it's extremely important to be properly diagnosed with a bacterial infection. Don't insist on an antibiotic when your doctor knows whatever you have is probably viral and is going to run its own course."
Dr. Scott Steiner, chairman of the infection prevention committee at Davis Hospital and Medical Center, in Layton, said organisms gain antibiotic resistance through a variety of acquired and mutational mechanisms, but ultimately one of the main reasons resistance arises is that resistant organisms are allowed to multiply because of inappropriate or incomplete use of antibiotics.
"The body normally contains innumerable different types of bacteria, with each type having different strains," he said. "Some bacteria are susceptible to only certain antibiotics, and other bacteria require more than one antibiotic to ensure complete extermination."
So when antibiotics are given inappropriately or when a course isn't completed, Steiner said, some types of bacteria are killed, but other types and some resistant strains continue to live and propagate. Over time, what used to be only a very small number of resistant organisms increases and they overrun and replace the normal susceptible organisms.
"Then this strain that is resistant to antibiotics that it was previously susceptible to can be spread to other people, causing infections that are now difficult to treat and require additional, stronger antibiotics," he said.
Waters said there are only so many antibiotics available and pointed to Dr. Brad Spellberg, an infectious disease specialist at UCLA, who addressed the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health last year. Spellberg told the committee the antibiotic pipeline is drying up, placing Americans and people around the world at serious risk.
England is dealing with an antibiotic-resistant blood poisoning caused by E.coli, which is related to urinary tract infections. The problem, said Smyth, is also being seen in the eastern part of the United States, and while it hasn't hit Utah yet, it could be just a matter of time. The World Health Organization says the trend is gathering pace and it cannot be ignored.
"For everything we have, we're not the healthiest society in the world. We have all these resources and yet we're getting into trouble," Smyth said. "We need to come up with a better way of tracking what drugs people are taking or there will continue to be another infection rearing its ugly head."
* Most coughs and colds will get better on their own without antibiotics, and antibiotics will not hasten your recovery.
* Discuss the pros and cons of antibiotics with your doctors. They will be able to assess whether you need them.
* Coughing up phlegm on its own is not a reason to need an antibiotic.
* When you have a sore throat with a runny nose with phlegm, it suggests the infection is less likely to respond to antibiotics.
* If you have a high temperature, with a really red or pus-filled throat and feel really ill, this may be an indication for antibiotics.
* Some people stop their course of antibiotics early, which might indicate they didn't need them in the first place.
* Always take all the doses each day and finish the course of treatment, typically five days. Otherwise you encourage the emergence of resistant strains.
* Never keep any leftover antibiotics to use later. An antibiotic prescribed for one infection may not be appropriate for the next.
* If you had an antibiotic last time you had a respiratory tract infection, this time ask your doctor about a delayed antibiotic prescription, which you only take if your symptoms get worse or do not improve within the expected time for that illness.
* Antibiotics in certain situations can be lifesavers, so if you or your child are very ill, do visit your doctor for advice.
Source: Heatlh Protection Agency