The headline was hidden in my Facebook feed between pictures of cute kids and friends extolling their latest fitness accomplishments, but there it was: “US Scientists Discover Powerful New Antibiotic”.
Wow. The story described a group of scientists from Northeastern University in Boston who studied 10,000 strains of bacteria and 25 new compounds.
Of those, teixobactin was found to kill bacteria by breaking the bacteria’s cell wall preventing further growth. Although clinical tests in humans are still a few years away, this is considered groundbreaking news.
Since 2008, only two new systemic antibiotics have been approved by the FDA. It has been 25 years since a new class of drugs has been discovered. For various reasons, drug companies do not have many economic incentives to research new antibiotics. Meanwhile, more organisms are becoming antibiotic resistant. Overuse of antibiotics is largely responsible.
Antibiotics can only treat infections that are caused by bacteria. When antibiotics are taken for viral infections, such as colds or sore throats, they will not cure the infection, they will not speed healing, they will not make the patient feel better and they will not keep others from getting sick. When an individual takes an antibiotic, the sensitive bacteria will die, but other bacteria may develop defenses that make them stronger and allow them to multiply. Should these bacteria then cause an infection, there will be no treatment for them. Some argue that antibiotic resistance is global health’s biggest threat.
How can you help?
1- Think of antibiotics as an endangered resource that needs to be preserved. When your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, ensure that he or she thinks it is necessary. Ask if there are other things that might make you feel better.
2-Take the antibiotic exactly as prescribed. Once you start an antibiotic, finish the entire course. Do not save more for later.
3-Do not take antibiotics that were prescribed for another person.
4- Do not pressure your doctor for an antibiotic if he or she thinks you have a viral infection.
I am hopeful that this discovery will bring a new era of antibiotic development. However, it is vital that we preserve the resources we have and work together to use them wisely.
Lisa Ryan, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician at Way to Grow Pediatrics.