Health News Week in Review
Week of June 10, 2011
This week we look at bacteria resistant to antibiotics and how you can protect yourself, AIDS at 30 years, Changing Brain Cells into Heart Cells, and why athletes may need more Vitamin D.
WHO has identified antimicrobial resistance to antibiotics as one of the three greatest threats to human health.
The bacteria in your intestines are your immune system’s first line of defense. Antibiotics affect not only the bacteria we wish to eliminate, but destroy the beneficial flora, which maintain the internal balance of bacterial growth. A bacterium such as Staphylococcus can be normal bacteria that are normally maintained in balance but can overgrow and become pathological under antibiotic treatment. When we take antibiotics much of the ecosystem of the bacteria is disrupted, so there can be overgrowth of bacteria, which can lead to disease. A healthy intestinal bacterial flora prevents foreign bacteria from entering your bloodstream through the gut.
While the development of specific antibiotics for pathological agents profoundly improved success in treating infectious disease, a hidden cost has emerged. The overuse of antibiotics to treat common ailments has led to a disruption of the internal microbiological ecosystems in our bodies.
The weaker the system becomes the more resistant bacteria can overgrow and require more use of antibiotics. This is called antimicrobial resistance.
The World Health Organization has identified antimicrobial resistance to antibiotics as one of the three greatest threats to human health. Antimicrobial resistance is the outgrowth of overuse and misuse of antibiotics in human health and in animals, among other practices.
According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which is the result of a staph infection that becomes resistant to antibiotics, kills more Americans every year than emphysema, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and homicides combined. Tuberculosis, which kills 2 million people worldwide every year, more than any other infectious disease, is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics.
The issue is of such growing concern that the World Health Organization dedicated World Health Day, April 7, to the topic, calling for increased attention to antibiotic-resistant bacteria worldwide.
The financial costs are great as well, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Two common hospital-acquired infections, pneumonia and sepsis, which are generally the result of antibacterial-resistant pathogens, killed 50,000 Americans and cost the U.S. health care system $8 billion in 2006. The total cost to the health care system of antibiotic-resistant infections is thought to be $21 billion to $34 billion each year.
How do we counteract problems that come as side effects of antibiotics? One method is to increase our consumption of healthy bacteria or probiotics. The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.” The most common types of these beneficial bacteria are Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. These are found in fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut. Probiotics are also sold as dietary supplements in therapeutic doses. Previous studies indicate that probiotics may have a role in treating gastrointestinal illnesses, boosting immunity, and preventing or slowing the development of certain types of cancer.
Next: AIDS at 30 years, Brain Cells, and Vitamin D for athletes