The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Antibiotics No Match Against Superbugs

A new era of disease has arisen from the forced mutation of bacteria caused by antibiotic use. Once common infections are becoming untreatable and deadly according to World Health Organization (WHO) officials.

The resistance to antibiotics is one of the greatest public health threats as it leaves one's body defenseless against even mild infections. The once cost-effective, 'safe' treatments are now creating much more expensive, toxic treatments in intensive care units.

Incurable cures:

Unnecessary use and abuse of antibiotics has been stated as leading contributors to this microscopic threat. Improper use for non-life threatening viral conditions such as an ear infection may be preventing future life-saving procedures such as an organ transplant.

A complicating factor is that there are very few new antibiotics in development. Very few drug makers have invested time and money into a drug designed for short-term use such as antibiotics. Drug companies place significant investment in the development of long-term versus short-term medications. Examples of this include drugs created for diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Are medical cures extinct?

Each use, even proper use, will bring a patient closer to becoming resistant and at risk of serious harm. Antibiotic resistance can possibly be the end of modern medicine as we know it.

Other factors contributing to this growing problem includes misdiagnosis, unnecessary prescriptions and patients knowing and unknowingly sharing with friends and family members. It's easy to start to question - is there such thing as a safe drug?

Surgeries, cancer treatments and other often life-saving procedures will not be able to be performed without effective antibiotic therapy. Antibiotic resistance could essentially increase the risk of hospitalization kills versus actual cures. Relatively simple diseases could end up deadly once again.

Superbugs are un-killable:

Staphylococcus aureus or a Staph infection is one of the most common bacteria that mutates. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a one of the leading causes of blood poisoning and death in hospitals. MRSA is also responsible for other potentially fatal diseases such as necrotizing pneumonia and fasciitis.

It is now estimated that half of all Staph infections are resistant to the four main antibiotics - erythromycin, penicillin, tetracycline and methicillin.

Medication induced disease:

Improper use of antibiotics can stem from not understanding the types of conditions that they are safe and effective to treat. Antibiotics only kill bacteria, not infections that are caused by viruses.

Viruses, not bacteria, cause colds, flus, ear infections and many of the health conditions that bring a patient to the hospital.

A patient often does not know if they are suffering from a bacterial or viral infection. Many healthcare professionals loosely prescribe antibiotics as a 'catch all' treatment regardless of bacterial or viral origin.

Proper diagnosis and prevention is essential to curb this growing pandemic. Antibiotics should not be shared, saved for later use or sold as an attempt to save hospital visits. In reality, sharing medications will cause antibiotic resistance - a harm to you and society.

As always, the best treatment of an infection is not to get one in the first place. This may not be possible with accidents, injuries and surgeries but they represent a small percentage of the overall infections. Research now shows that one's lifestyle will play a significant role in the development of infections.

Choices better than antibiotics:

What we eat, how physically fit we are and one's ability to manage and respond to stress has been found to be the primary indicators of a strong immune system. A weak immune system is the leading cause of bacterial infections.

We are all exposed to bacteria on a daily basis and one's immune system innately knows how to kill the invaders. Germs are not the cause of disease - a weak immune system is, something you can take care of naturally.

Good bacteria equals good health:

A healthy digestive tract is responsible for 80 percent of one's immune system. Coincidently, the digestive tract is primarily made up of bacteria - good bacteria.

Good bacteria are responsible for proper digestion of food, absorption of nutrients, production of vitamins, elimination of toxins and the prevention of food-based allergies. They are also critical in the protection against yeast infections and digestive tract parasites.

There are approximately 100 trillion bacteria inside the human body. Statistics indicate that an optimal immune system operates with approximately 85 percent good bacteria.

Antibiotics are not selective bacteria killers. They kill good and bad bacteria. Disease occurs when there are not enough good bacteria in comparison to the bad. This imbalance is a common side effect of the use of antibiotics.

A diet of good bacteria:

The first step is to replenish the good bacteria with fermented foods. Fermented foods are commonly eaten in most cultures. Yogurt, miso, kimchi (fermented cabbage) and kefir are all high in good bacteria.

A complication is that fermented foods are commonly pasteurized, killing the good bacteria. In response, many food companies fortify good bacteria back into the foods to strengthen one's immune system.

Supplements called pre and probiotics are also becoming readily available in pharmacies and health conscious grocery stores. This is one of the most effective ways to replenish good bacteria. Ensure the food or supplement says "live" on the package. The good bacteria are not good if they're dead.

Stop killing good bacteria:

The greatest threat to healthy bacteria is an antibiotic. Bad bacteria inherit your digestive tract when the healthy bacteria are killed off. Bad bacteria are the one's that become antibiotic resistant.

Modern illness and antibiotic resistance is linked to the quality of the nutrients that we provide our bodies. An unnatural, chemical-based, highly processed and high-sugar content food feed the bad bacteria, diminish one's immune system and encourages disease to develop.

The best way to build a strong immune system is to avoid and eliminate processed sugar. This can be effectively achieved by eating more natural foods such as vegetables and lean, healthy meats. Processed meats are loaded with preservatives, nitrates and chemicals that diminish one's immune system.

Many hidden sugars are found in the fluids that we drink. Fluids in the form of soda, alcohol or other man-made concoctions will harm one's immune system. Drink more healthy, clean water.

Long-term use of other common medications such as birth control pills and anti-inflammatories has been found to destroy good bacteria as well. It is important to take care of one's body on a preventative basis instead of relying on the treatment of a disease.

The traditional healthcare system wants the best for their patients but commonly start with unnatural treatments versus natural ones. Patients can strengthen their immune system, prevent disease from developing and allow the body to respond to the best of its ability should an infection occur by improving one's lifestyle.

Cutting edge healthcare is focused around the prevention of disease. Don't rely on medications - rely on improved personal choices, it may save your life.

Dr. Cory Couillard works in collaboration with the World Health Organization's goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education.

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