The existence of “super-bugs,” or antibiotic resistant bacteria, has become a growing fear among public health experts. Antibiotics have had a near miraculous effect on public health. But, their overuse has created bacteria resistant to many antibiotics.
Antibiotics and Their Uses
Sir Alexander Fleming discovered the first antibiotic, penicillin, in 1928. But it wasn’t developed for medical use until the 1940s. At that time it was used to save the life of a woman dying from a strep infection.
Since that day in 1942, antibiotics have been performing near-miracles. Eradicating some of the deadliest infectious diseases, and dramatically reducing the mortality of others.
Antibiotics are also used to increase profits in the raising of livestock. The widespread application of broad spectrum antibiotics has helped create our current situation.
When antibiotics are unnecessarily used, they wipe out weaker bacteria. This leave the more resistant strains to pass that trait down to the next generation.
What does this mean?
This information may be alarming, but it isn’t the end of antibiotics.
The few resistant bacteria that have been found in the US are not spreading fast. Even though we aren’t in immediate danger, we need to develop better, more targeted ways of attacking infections. This is where vaccines are able to prepare the body to better handle an infection. As opposed to treating everything, vaccines strengthen your immune system.
How can vaccines help?
The use of vaccines to prevent bacterial infections is well known. We have vaccines to prevent typhoid, meningitis, tetanus, and whooping cough. These targeted diseases all contain potentially resistant bacteria. Instead of treating the diseases with antibiotics, we can prevent them through vaccination.
A 2008 study observed drug-resistant streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumonia) in immunized and non-immunized patients. Introducing the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) caused a decline in drug-resistant bacteria. Amazingly both vaccinated and non-vaccinated groups were affected.
Both vaccinated and unvaccinated groups were less susceptible to drug-resistant bacteria. The group that did not receive the vaccine received the same benefits because of herd-immunity.
Overview and outlook
We know the existence of super bugs is due in part to the overuse of antibiotics. It is important to remember how valuable antibiotics are when used correctly.
This is not an end for antibiotic usage, but it is a warning against the blanket application we use today.
Scientists are calling for targeted use of antibiotics, and further development of vaccines. This can help stop drug-resistant bacteria from forming in our bodies. Various research efforts are underway to find more ways of tackling this issue.
According to the Director of the CDC’s Antimicrobial Resistance and Emerging Pathogens Team, Alexander Kallen, it is this renewed interest in changing the way antibiotics are used that will fuel change in the future. And who knows? Maybe we can develop some new vaccines along the way.
Are you properly vaccinated for your next trip? Your travel vaccines can have beneficial impacts beyond just protecting you on your trip. Schedule an appointment with one of our travel health specialists today, and make sure you are properly informed before you leave! Call us at or book online now.