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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Antibiotic-resistant germs becoming more common

Antibiotic-resistant germs becoming more common

Published by Contra Costa Times

Posted on Thursday, July 1, 2010
By Dr. Nishant Shah

A common complaint in most general medical practices: "I have a spider bite."

I recently saw a young girl with a swollen, red bump on her leg. Her mom thought she had been bitten by a spider, but careful examination revealed that this "spider bite," was actually an infected skin wound. And, unfortunately, it was infected with a germ resistant to many antibiotics.

Our skin is a protective barrier that keeps infections out, but even a tiny break in the skin, such as a small scrape or from scratching a mosquito bite, can let in bacteria and cause infection.

People with weak immune systems or chronic condition like diabetes are more likely to get severe skin infections. But anyone can be infected with resistant germs.

Thanks to the development of new antibiotics we can still treat these infections, but we have to be careful. The more antibiotics we use the more likely it is that new resistance will develop.

A common drug-resistant bacteria, methicillin resistant staph aureus (MRSA) has caused doctors to change the antibiotics they use to treat this common bacterium.

Years ago, staph aureus bacteria were susceptible to penicillin. When this staph became resistant to penicillin, methicillin was developed to treat it. Now, most staph aureus are resistant to methicillin, hence the name.

Until recently, antibiotic-resistant infections, including MRSA, occurred only in hospitals. But now, one in five community-acquired skin infections among healthy people show some antibiotic resistance.

One problem is that antibiotics are sometimes used unnecessarily. When you have a cold, bronchitis or an earache, you usually don't need antibiotics. In fact, taking antibiotics for a cold or bronchitis exposes you to sometimes dangerous side effects, but usually does nothing to cure or even help your illness.

Most common respiratory symptoms can be treated at home with over-the-counter medicines and a little tender loving care.

If your health care provider thinks antibiotics are needed, take them as prescribed until they are gone. This is because bacteria don't get killed all at once. You might feel better in two to three days, but many bacteria might still remain alive.

If you have trouble remembering to take medicine, ask your doctor for antibiotics that can be taken once or twice a day.

Do not share medicine with anyone. If you get a toothache or start to feel sick, talk with your doctor. Don't take leftover pills from others.

Every infection is different and specific antibiotics are needed for different types of infections. And the person's age, other illnesses and other medications can affect which antibiotics are appropriate.

Finally, remember you and your doctor or nurse practitioner are partners in staying healthy. Eat well, exercise and get your routine checkups. Antibiotics are only one tool to be used to keep you healthy and strong.

Try these simple steps to avoid infection:
  • Wash your hands for at least 15 seconds
  • Cover your mouth with your sleeve when you cough
  • Get immunizations as recommended
  • Use moisturizer to avoid cracks in your skin
  • Keep cuts and scrapes clean by washing them with soap and water, and using a bandage and antibiotic ointment
  • Use oral antibiotics correctly

Shah is a family practice physician at the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez, part of the county health department.

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