Antibiotics – Not Always Invited

17 11 2011

George Armelagos is an anthropologist (kind of like Apolo Ohno is a skater).

A few years ago, one of George’s students detected an antibiotic called tetracycline in the bone of an ancient Nubian. Both the student and George thought this was odd, since tetracycline had not come into common use until the 1950s.

George and his student, along with some of their colleagues, got busy and discovered that lots of Nubians, Egyptians, and others from the early years of the second period of the Gregorian calendar had detectable tetracycline in their bones.

Turns out, the antibiotic was consumed in the beer of the day.

George wrote up this find in Natural History Magazine. As for the beer . . .

The beer produced in ancient times, according to Barry Kemp, author of Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization, was quite different from the modern commercial product: “It was probably an opaque liquid looking like a gruel or soup, not necessarily very alcoholic but highly nutritious. Its prominence in the Egyptian diet reflects its food value as much as the mildly pleasurable sensation that went with drinking it.”

Spores that produce tetracycline were inadvertently captured during the beer-brewing process and before they knew it, the ancients were slinging back antibiotics with their brewskies.

The old-timers might not have known how their beer came to be medicinal, but know it they did. George went on to write:

Given that the ancient Nubians and Egyptians were getting doses of tetracycline, another question is whether this afforded them any medical benefits. In Food: The Girl of Osiris, William J. Darby and coauthors provide archaeological, historical, and ethnographic accounts of beer’s use as a mouthwash to treat the gums, as an enema, as a vaginal douche, as a dressing for wounds, and as a fumigant to treat diseases of the anus (the dried remains of grains used in brewing are burned to produce a therapeutic smoke). This shows that even in the distant past, Egyptians and their neighbors appreciated beer’s medicinal qualities.

This sounds like a classic case of antibiotic overuse to me, and who knows? Maybe it was.

Overuse or misuse is certainly a concern these days. CDC is in the middle of Get Smart About Antibiotics Week, which is an international collaboration with the European Antibiotic Awareness Day and Canada′s Antibiotic Awareness Week.

Antibiotics are effective “against bacterial infections, certain fungal infections and some kinds of parasites.” They don’t do squat against viruses.

Misuse of antibiotics is a pervasive problem. For instance, if I take an antibiotic against a bacterial infection but I don’t take it long enough, the bacteria that survive become resistant to the antibiotic and can infect other people. The bacteria also reproduce and their offspring or clones are resistant.

When someone is infected with the resistant bacteria and he or she takes the same antibiotic I took (but didn’t finish), it may not work.

If this happens often enough, and it has, then we end up with a plethora of germs against which we have little or no defense.

It’s not a theory. It’s reality. It’s happening right now.

What can be done?

Healthcare professionals can stop giving antibiotics against viral infections and in other circumstances where the drug is not helpful.

We can stop asking for antibiotics. The healthcare professionals will know when we need them and when we don’t. Also, we must comply with the dosing instructions. We need to take the drug as directed and for as long as directed.

That’s about it. Pretty simple. But here’s hoping it’s not too late for scientists to come up with a new class of antibiotics that will allow us to have a do-over.

By Trish Parnell

Image courtesy of National Health Service





Antibiotic Resistance

20 01 2010

Nurse Mary Beth explains when, and when not, to use antibiotics.

Listen now!

Right-click here to download podcast (4mb, 9min)


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MRSA

25 02 2008

MRSA is in the news these days and it can be scary.  MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a bacterium that causes infections in and on the body.

It’s considered the super bug of staph (Staphylococcus aureus) infections because this strain is resistant to some of our antibiotics.  This resistance makes it harder to treat.

A MRSA infection on the skin may cause boils or pimples or it may cause an infection that runs so deep it has to be drained.  Treatment for such an infection may or may not include antibiotics. 

MRSA may also infect wounds or get into the lungs, the bloodstream or the urinary tract.

About 25 percent of us walk around with staph bacteria on our bodies or maybe up our noses, but we don’t become infected.  Of the 25 percent, about one percent carries MRSA. 

Should the staph get into the body through, say, a cut, we could get an infection.  Usually these infections aren’t serious, although it’s possible for them to become dangerous.  They may even cause pneumonia.

The good news is, staph is usually treated with antibiotics.  The bad news is, there are strains of staph, like MRSA, that have developed resistance to some of our antibiotics.  This super bug keeps changing and adapting, making it necessary for us to develop new antibiotics in a hurry.

To the disgrace of everyone involved, MRSA infections are exploding in healthcare settings, with MRSA now causing up to 40 to 50 percent of the staph infections in U.S. hospitals.

MRSA has also expanded from hospitals and other healthcare settings out into the community, where it is referred to as Community-Associated MRSA (CA-MRSA).

CDC tells us that in 2003, 12 percent of MRSA infections were acquired in the community.

Prevention is key to remaining MRSA-free and CDC recommends the following:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly for at least 15 seconds. Use soap and water or an alcohol-base hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your cuts and scrapes with a clean bandage to prevent bacteria from entering the wound.  If you have to touch another person’s wounds or bandages, put a barrier between your hands and the soiled materials or open skin.
  • Don’t share personal care items like nail clippers or scissors, razors, towels and so on. 
  • Wipe down shared gym equipment before and after use.
  • Using the dryer rather than line drying helps kill bacteria.

MRSA is identified with lab tests.  Should your provider determine you have a MRSA infection, there are plenty of antibiotics that do work, although you may not even need to be on antibiotics.





MRSA

1 06 2007

There’s an old enemy in town, the microbe called MRSA (frequently pronounced MURsah). MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. It’s a bacterium that used to be picked up during hospital stays and was easily knocked out by a dose of penicillin.

Not anymore. It’s resistant to many common antibiotics, making it harder to treat.

This bug is now found in gyms and other places where people get together. It’s a problem for everyone. It usually looks like a skin infection, but it can get in the bloodstream and urinary tract and cause multiple symptoms.

Time was, it would take a couple of days to get the labs back identifying MRSA in a patient, but now it’s just a couple of hours. Technology is a wonderful thing.

And then there is the anti-tech treatment – maggots.

Doctors at the University of Manchester in Britain have successfully treated foot ulcers in diabetics with maggots. Yes, maggots. They put the little larvae on the ulcers several times a day and watched them dine on damaged tissue. Reports are that the patients healed much faster than with normal treatment.

Hard to get over the willies with that bit of news.

The best prevention is to keep your hands clean, wash and cover your wounds, avoid touching other people’s wounds or bandages, and don’t share personal items (towels, razors and so on).

There are more conventional treatments for MRSA, but if you’re not careful, you, too, may find yourself at the business end of a maggot.