Antibiotics are one of the great advances in medicine, but overuse in the last decade or so has resulted in resistant bacteria, which we're seeing all over the world.
The ability to test for viruses has come a long way in recent years. The Respiratory Pathogen Panel also tests for RSV, all the flu viruses, the viruses that cause croup and viral meningitis. One swab can test for some 20 viruses.
If your child has a virus, there's no need for an antibiotic. So why are some parents so resistant?
News Channel 6's Jennie Montgomery took that question straight to the authorities at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University... in tonight's News Channel 6 Extra.
"A cold that lasts 5 or 6 days, the symptoms get worse."
"Or, all of a sudden the child's starting to wheeze or have difficulty breathing. They need to be seen."
It's a tough call for many parents: When do you take your child to the doctor? And are you only exposing them to more yucky germs if you do?
Two major types of germs make people sick: bacteria and viruses. Over-treatment is a big part of the antibiotic overuse problem.
When you take your child to the doctor for colds or sore throats, do you automatically expect a prescription for antibiotics? Many parents do.
Dr. Freeman says technology has made some things much easier to diagnose.
"We can now test for a lot of these viruses."
But a virus has to run its course.
"We have nothing for viruses, obviously, at this point, but the physician writes out a prescription for an antibiotic," explains Infectious Disease specialist Dr. Jose Vazquez.
And that's the problem, according to both Vazquez and Freeman.
"The more antibiotics we give, the more likely the bacteria are to develop resistance to those antibiotics and then you come to a patient who needs them and we're gonna find, all too soon, that those antibiotics are no longer efficient. "
Exactly how does the bacteria become resistant? It's as fascinating as it is scary. Dr. Vazquez, Section Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at GRU says they mutate within their own cells to the antibiotic... or, they can "communicate" and exchange genetic material.
"They will meet, they'll join and transfer that bacteria back and forth."
And it is an urgent problem across the globe: Vazquez says there are more than 2,000,000 cases of antibiotic resistance every year.
"There are very, very few antibiotics that are being developed nowadays."
Vazquez says it boils down to money.
"That's not where they make their money in a 5-10 day drug. So the big pharmaceuticals have actually stopped developing and generating new antibiotics and we're left with NO antibiotics. So, it's very scary."
Infectious disease specialists and the Centers for Disease Control are working with the government to find ways to restart the antibiotic business. In the meantime, doctors are seeing the unintended consequences of antibiotic overuse and abuse.
"There are actually some bacteria that are resistant to every single antibiotic that we have."
Pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, meningitis, skin infections, and tuberculosis are all becoming harder to treat. Then there's that superbug MRSA.
"It's everywhere- in all the sports teams, specifically the ones with contact like wrestling, football, basketball."
MRSA infections are very serious and can require I-V antibiotics in a hospital.
The CDC reports more than half of all antibiotics prescribed are going to infections that typically don't need them.
So here's the really important part: LISTEN to your doctor. That's one way to reign in overuse, along with awareness campaigns like "Bad Bugs, No Drugs."
"You know it's educating the public, it's educating the primary care doctor that you don't need an antibiotic every time the patient has a fever, ear ache," Vazquez cautions.
That also prevents potential side effects like rashes, upset stomach, or allergic reactions.
There are two important things -you- can do to minimize antibiotic resistance:
1) Treat only bacterial infections, not viruses.
2) Never take antibiotics that were prescribed for someone else.
And remember, you can help prevent the spread of infections in the first place by practicing the following:
Here are ways to help prevent MRSA:
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