Study urges smarter use of antibiotics

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Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, 2 million Americans develop an antibiotic-resistant infection, and 23,000 die from it.

At Georgia Tech, Associate Professor of Biology Sam Brown, who works in Tech's new Center for Microbial Dynamics and Infection, says the over use of antibiotics in farming and medicine can make us vulnerable to drug-resistant bacteria medications cannot stop.

"Very simply, it means you'll take the same drugs and they won't work," Brown says.  "So, if you have an ear infection, it will not resolve, because the antibiotic is unable to kill the bacteria."

If you take an antibiotic for a viral infection, which the medications are not designed to treat, the antibiotic can attack and destroy healthy bacteria in your body, creating a void for potentially harmful bacteria to move in.

"So, this is actually damaging to you as an individual," Brown says.  "It's damaging to you in terms of your microbiome and your risk of subsequent infection."

To tip the scales in the battle over drug-resistant infections, Brown and a team of researchers at Duke and Harvard universities say we need a more targeted approach to prescribing antibiotics.

Brown says it should include testing to find out whether otherwise healthy patients might be carriers of pathogens like E.coli or strep.

"This is the unpleasant truth, but we carry them in our bodies all the time," Brown says. "So, kids with strep pneumo, a few of them get sick, but many of them carry it basically up their noses."

Getting swabbed for these "bystander" bacteria could one day be part of our yearly checkup, allowing doctors to treat microbes before they can make us sick.

 "So, you do surveillance on these samples to ask, what microbes are present, what potential pathogens are you carrying and what resistances do they carry?" Brown says.

Knowing that, Brown says, can help us better use the medications we count on.