Stronger strains of bacteria are appearing and increased resistance to antibiotics is the direct cause of over 20,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. A recently published study shows the effectiveness of a new breath test. The test can detect whether a pneumonia case is bacterial or viral. These issues/discoveries are critically connected.
In the U.S., between five and 10 million people contract pneumonia each year. For those who are hospitalized, the death rate can be as high as 25 %. If you’ve already been hospitalized for another condition (auto immune, cancer, etc.) and then you additionally develop pneumonia, your mortality rate jumps to about 60% and is even higher in women.
About 70 years ago, we were blessed with the discovery (creation) of antibiotics. Unfortunately, over the decades, they have been grossly misused. What happens is that bacteria eventually become resistant to antibiotics. Bacteria have a survival instinct, too. Antibiotic resistance will ultimately occur because of evolutionary natural selection, but the misuse and overuse of antibiotics is dramatically escalating the process.
Drugs begin to work less effectively when they are taken too frequently, for too short a time, too small a dose, at inadequate strengths, or for the wrong disease. Low and/or unfinished doses of antibiotics don’t kill all the bacteria completely. This actually encourages the remaining bacteria to develop into a stronger version of itself, (so that next time you won’t be able to kill it.)
Increasing resistance is also derived from our industrial farms— up to 70 percent of all antibiotics produced in the U.S. are given to food animals, not people. For example, antibiotics are used in cattle, poultry, and swine when an individual animal becomes sick; but entire herds or flocks are given antibiotics to prevent disease from living in crowded, contagious, unsanitary conditions.
This overuse trickles down to humans who are ingesting foods from these animals. Additionally, their waste enters our soil and water supplies. It’s even been noted that, “Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can become airborne when vented from concentrated animal housing.”
Viral or Bacterial?
Another cause for overuse of antibiotics is that they’ve been prescribed misguidedly for viruses. That won’t help. It just decreases the effectiveness of antibiotics when we actually need them for a bacterial infection. (Scary note: The CDC reports that at least 2 million people became infected last year with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.)
Here’s the Good News:
A breath test has recently been developed and tested by a team of Chinese researchers. Their study shows that the breathalyzer can distinguish if a person’s pneumonia is viral or bacterial. This is incredibly important because antibiotics won’t be “wrongly” prescribed and proper treatment can ensue. This, in effect, is another way in which we can slow the rate of antibiotic resistance.
Breathalyzer-type tests have been developed over the past recent years, successfully, to identify diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and even lung cancer. Innovation can be put to helpful use, especially in times of potential crises.
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