Resistance is Futile - or is it?

Monday, October 24, 2011 - 5:00am

Misuse of Antibiotics is becoming a Public Health Issue

Antibiotics have become one of the most important tools of modern medicine. They have saved countless lives over the decades that they have been used. However, antibiotics can have an adverse impact on our health and environment if they are not used prudently or disposed of properly.

As bacteria are increasingly exposed to antibiotics, they begin to genetically adapt so they can "fight back" and be able to survive the next antibiotic attack. For example, when a child gets a bad cold, parents might take the child to the doctor and ask for an antibiotic, hoping that this will cure the illness. Antibiotics have absolutely no effect on viral illnesses, which include most colds and flu-like complaints. When the doctor yields to such parental pressure to use antibiotics, the child is given a medicine he or she does not need. Some of the bacteria present in the child's body will start to develop a resistance to the medicine, so that when the child truly needs an antibiotic during a future illness, that treatment may no longer be effective.

When treating bacterial infection with an antibiotic, many patients start to feel better half-way through their treatment, so they stop taking the medication. Infection-causing bacteria have been reduced during the treatment, but by stopping treatment early, they are given a chance to "recover" from the initial antibiotic attack. This might create an even more serious version of the illness than the patient started with. One disastrous outcome of such misuse was the development of multidrug and extensively drug resistant tuberculosis strains, which are TB infections that are now difficult to treat because they no longer respond to the most medications.

A growing problem with antibiotics is their repeated and ongoing entry into the environment. The mass production of chicken and beef includes the persistent and growing use of antibiotics to prevent infections. In fact, the agricultural use of antibiotics now accounts for the majority of antibiotic use in this county, which threatens to our soil and surface water. When these antibiotics continually attack bacteria which are naturally present in both animals and the environment, resistant strains of disease causing bacteria increase. This can lead to diseases that are more severe and harder to treat.

Improper disposal of antibiotics (and other prescription and over-the-counter medications) increases the risk that these medications will show up in soil and water. Flushing unused medications down the toilet, or putting them out with the trash is not a good approach for maintaining a healthy environment.

In Dane County, there is a safe and responsible way to dispose of unwanted medicationthe MedDrop program. MedDrop has special drop off programs taking place throughout the year. Within the next months, MedDrop will open several permanent collection sites. For more information on MedDrop, see

For all these reasons, the CDC is sponsoring the "Get Smart about Antibiotics Week", a national outreach effort to educate the public about the unhealthy and costly consequences of the misuse of these otherwise life saving medicines. For more information, see the following website:




  • Jeff Golden(608) 243-0302