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Bacteria might be small, but their increasing ability to withstand antibiotic treatment is becoming a big problem. In fact, antibiotic resistance is among the top health crises of our time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Historically, one in two people used to die from diseases caused by infection before the age of 20. The development of antimicrobials in the early 1900s revolutionized medicine and enabled treatment of previously incurable infectious diseases. But almost as fast as they grew in popularity, antimicrobials began being overused, driving them toward becoming ineffective treatment options.

Antibiotic resistance occurs after bacteria are introduced to an antibiotic and adapt to overcome the antibiotic’s effect. The bacteria become “drug-resistant,” meaning they no longer respond to treatment with antibiotics. And drug-resistant bacteria are emerging at an alarming rate. Resistant organisms are developing much faster than new antibiotics are being introduced, leaving untreatable “superbugs” in our midst.

The CDC estimates more than 2 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant organisms, resulting in approximately 23,000 deaths annually.

One way to reduce antibiotic resistance is through antimicrobial stewardship programs. Antimicrobial stewardship means using antimicrobials (like antibiotics) appropriately and responsibly in order to reduce microbial resistance, improve patient outcomes and decrease the spread of infection caused by drug-resistant organisms.

Appropriate use of antibiotics includes using them only when necessary, using the correct antibiotic for an infection and limiting how long an antibiotic is used.

Hospitals around the United States, including Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center in Salida, have implemented antimicrobial stewardship programs to guide health care professionals toward the most appropriate use of antimicrobials.

But much like playing a team sport, fighting antimicrobial resistance cannot be done by health care professionals alone. Everyone must do their part to combat this crisis.

The patient’s role in antimicrobial stewardship includes limiting antibiotic use and only seeking treatment with antibiotics when necessary. Antibiotics only work against bacterial infections, and many common colds, for example, are caused by viruses.

It is an all too common scenario to have leftover antibiotics from previous treatments, either belonging to you or a relative, which may be expired or not fit for use due to poor storage conditions. Even if the antibiotic is fine, one specific antibiotic prescribed for a specific infection may not be effective against another infection.

Also, what you think is an infection may be something else. It is important to follow the usage directions for an antibiotic, even if you feel better.

Last but not least, if symptoms worsen, you should notify the prescribing physician rather than stopping medication altogether or taking it in a manner not prescribed.

Antimicrobials remain a mainstay of treatment in a wide variety of situations, but their use must be more carefully considered and their value more highly regarded. Reducing antibiotic use means reducing antibiotic-resistant organisms, and it will take action from everyone to regain control in this fight.

Cara Braverman is pursuing her doctor of pharmacy degree and is currently doing a clinical rotation in Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center’s Pharmacy Department.

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