Antibiotic Use Poses Resistance Risk

ByABC News
October 15, 2001, 6:13 PM

Oct. 15 -- As nationwide sales of antibiotics continue to mount, the threat of antibiotic resistance becomes more real. Many experts are concerned about the implications that such a large influx of antibiotics into the hands of the public will carry for society.

Inappropriate or liberal use of antibiotics can lead to the development of so-called superbugs, or bacteria that are resistant to a wide range of antibiotics making them difficult, if not impossible, to treat.

"The general rule is the more you use an antibiotic the more you develop resistance," says Dr. Marvin Bittner, associate professor of medical microbiology and immunology at Creighton University School of Medicine.

Dangers of 'Superbugs'

"Antibiotic resistance has been known ever since antibiotics were discovered 40 to 50 years ago," says Dr. Calvin Kunin, professor emeritus of internal medicine at Ohio State University.

Antibiotic resistance is a function of natural selection: The more antibiotics used and the greater the frequency of use, the greater chance that bacteria will evolve the ability to resist their effects.

Current research supports just how dangerous a problem antibiotic resistance can be. For example, a study published in the Oct. 1 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases looked at an outbreak of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) in Scotland. HUS is a blood infection caused by a strain of E.coli that can lead to kidney failure.

The study found that recent use of Cipro doubled the risk of developing HUS. Antibiotic use allowed more virulent E.coli strains that were resistant to the antibiotic to develop.

Perhaps even more frightening is the fact that, "There are currently five different kinds of bacteria that are resistant to every drug we have," says Dr. Stuart Levy, director of the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance at Tufts University.

While these bacteria are rare, antibiotic resistance remains a very real problem.

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