Antibiotic Resistance: An Emerging Threat to Public Health

A sniff, one after another. The initial pulses gradually change to throbs from the headache, the sore throat becomes drier and that 99 degree fever just can’t seem to go down. Suspecting that these are the signs of the flu, you purchase some antibiotics, since over-the-counter medicine don’t seem to as effective. But was that really the right decision?

Many doctors believe otherwise. Antibiotic medications are given to treat infections caused by bacteria and parasites. However, the problem arises when bacteria change in response to these antibiotics, which is a process known as antibiotic resistance. The United Nations has recently declared antibiotic resistance to be one of the biggest threats to global health. Even common infections are becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat them, resulting in longer illnesses and even death.

The real culprits aren’t the bacteria that are becoming more resistant—it’s ourselves and our doctors who overprescribe antibiotics. People who don’t understand how antibiotics function,they follow the instructions of doctors that carelessly hand out prescriptions of antibiotics without putting more thought into one little action. A study showed that “71 percent of the time, doctors will still prescribe antibiotics for patients coming in with a common cough”.

Sophomore Tiffany Chen had learned about antibiotic resistance last year in her freshman biology class, and has become increasingly concerned regarding this global issue.

“People should be informed on how to prevent antibiotic resistance because it’s really important to take proper dosage,” Chen said. “If more and more people misuse them, they’ll no longer work and will instead put the person into a life-and-death situation.”

At least in the near future, antibiotic resistance will continue as an ongoing problem. However, there are alternative solutions for common illnesses, instead of using antibiotics as a “cure”. Dr. Seiyu Kageyama has been in the medical field for decades, and specializes in traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture. He believes that antibiotics are not necessary when dealing with the common flu.

“Colds and coughs will get better by themselves. The best remedies are to rest and drink lots of fluid. Most common flus are viral in nature, which makes antibiotics ineffective”, Kageyama said.

According to Kageyama, nothing is really needed to treat such harmless illnesses. When one becomes sick, it’s really just a message from God that’s saying, “You need some rest”. He pointed out that some Chinese herbs may also induce profuse sweating, and thereby reduce a fever. Acupuncture is another method, as the needles that are placed in acupuncture points treat conditions such as a runny nose and stiff neck.

Kageyama believes that it is important to use medications for certain illnesses, but traditional medicine and modern medicine are not mutually exclusive. Photo by Jenny Chin.

Kageyama believes that some doctors are at fault for the development of antibiotic resistance in a portion of the victims.

“Doctors tend to overuse antibiotics. It protects the doctor from malpractice, just in case the infection turns out to be bacterial in nature. Patients should definitely do their research beforehand, or consult multiple doctors to get more well-rounded advices, instead of just listening to one..”, Kageyama said.

Although Kageyama supports the usage of Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture when dealing with illnesses, he does believe there are some downsides to it.

“Chinese herbal medicine has more benefits compared to antibiotics, because the herbs are all natural. It’s more effective when you have something natural enter our bodies,” Kageyama said. “I’m not saying Chinese medicine is always better than antibiotics, and vice-versa. Some herbs, when used incorrectly, can make an illness become even more severe.”

Kageyama wants students to watch out for their symptoms the next time they’re sick. He recommends a combination of rest and drinking fluids, which is much better than taking medicine or antibiotics. Only if a student has a high fever, uncontrollable coughing or hurting throat should the student then consult a doctor.

Expanding our knowledge of antibiotic resistance must first begin in our own communities, before we can make it spread globally. Understanding the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance is essential, as the UN has even declared it a global health threat. The journey of creating a healthier world begins with one step: spreading awareness of antibiotic resistance.