Superbugs Spreading: Please Be Aware

A doctor gives advice on antibiotics, patient-physician relationships and the cold facts about the Superbugs infection scare. Please take all precautions!

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Superbugs and communicating with your doctor.

The next time you visit your doctor, you chance being an unwilling participant in a scenario resulting in the death of elders across the United States; your loved one could be next. Recent headlines cite the alarming rise in the rate of “Superbug” infections, such as MRSA, VRE and now, in California, CRE. These are common bacteria that have become resistant to many of the antibiotics we have available. This resistance has come about primarily through an unseen pressure on our nations primary care physicians.

Office-based physicians are under a subtle yet effective pressure not to let ill patients leave their office without a prescription for antibiotics. Most physicians begin their careers steadfast in their resolution to not overuse antibiotics. These new docs love to educate their patients regarding the 90 percent probability that their symptoms are viral in nature and very unlikely to require or respond to antibiotics.  This explains that antibiotics only work against bacterial infections, not viruses like the common cold.

This “happy time” in a physician’s new practice ends short after being left by three patients. For example, the young mother (who really seemed to appreciate the extra 10 minutes spent explaining viral vs. bacterial infections) immediately takes her child across the street to a new doctor.

Across the street, though, another interesting phenomenon occurs. The concerned mom explains that her previous doctor didn’t “listen” or “couldn’t recognize a sick child.” This new doctor now has an all too common choice to make. Option one: tell the new mom she is “stupid,” “wasted a $20 copay on nothing more than a cold” and “needlessly” used a personal day at work because she is “so stupid.”(PLEASE NOTE: Quotes indicate what mom heard not what doctor said.) Option two: write a prescription for antibiotics; commend her for being so astute and persistent in the need of a sick child and reassure her that, “I’ve learned over the years that a mother knows when her child is ill.”

Next is the butterfly effect. This mom usually tells at least 10 friends of the brilliant and caring doctor. Then, tells 40 friends what a quack her former doctor was. This pattern repeats itself every day across the nation.

Bacterial species that our elderly mothers or fathers come in contact with have been treated with so many antibiotics over the years that they’ve developed a resistance to them. This suggests that intelligent organisms deviously create ways around medicines.

Imagine the process that a patient undergoes when receiving antibiotics. Most infections are adequately treated within a week. In any population of organisms, there are some stronger and some weaker or more susceptible to our weapons. During the first two to three days of treatment, the weaker bugs are quickly killed off. The hardier organisms would be killed off if the patient actually finished the course of antibiotics prescribed. Studies show most patients stop taking antibiotics when they start to feel better – usually day three or four of treatment. It is clear how, again, played out thousands of times across our nation, this leads to more and more resistant strains emerging as common pathogens.

This phenomenon of resistance is often misunderstood and taken as “personal resistance” or “resistance of the individual.”  Many patients go out of their way to avoid antibiotics, fearing that if they take antibiotics too often they’ll become resistant to them and these medicines will not work when truly needed. The overuse of antibiotics will affect the organisms in your community but will not affect you per se.

You can protect yourself and your community from an unnecessary course of antibiotics with a simple strategy. First, the next time you or your child have symptoms that may require antibiotics, simply tell your doctor that you did not come for a prescription, you came for their opinion and care. By informing your doctor that you are happy to leave without antibiotics, you’ve won half the battle.

Second, know the facts. Statistically, most infections are viral and will only respond to time, rest and fluids. Unnecessary antibiotics not only contribute to the rise of Superbugs in your community, but they can also kill off the “good” bugs that your body needs to function effectively. And by that we refer mostly to the bugs in your gut. When the normal flora of your gastrointestinal tract is partially killed off, the harmful bacteria that are normally kept in check begin to overgrow, resulting sometimes in serious illness.

Every year, across the U.S. and around the world, these infections kill thousands. According to the Center for Disease Control, over 5,000 deaths are linked annually in the U.S. to MRSA. It is important that you recognize the relationship with your family doctor, how to approach prescriptions and finding the facts in the scary stories of Superbugs as told by your TV.

It is always wise to research and consult with multiple physicians before selecting your family doctor. Even further, when prescribed medication, talk with your pharmacist to find out the repercussions of your prescriptions and any further information concerning the patients well being. For a complete list of physicians in or around Montclair, visit

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