The Year of Yes, ep. 12: YES TO COMBATING SUPERORGANISMS

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Superorganisms are not funny, though the band Superorganism (poster above) surely is a good time.

The spread of deadly drug-resistant infections (“superbugs” / "superorganisms") is growing exponentially globally, and it is posing a huge threat. Avoiding taking antibiotics except when absolutely necessary is a big step that you can take to help combat this major problem.

Working in an urgent care facility a while back, I was privy to the rampant use of antibiotics to treat infections that are usually not bacterial or don’t necessarily require antibiotics, i.e. bronchitis, many sore throats, colds, flus, sinusitis, ear infections, pink eye …

Patients were requesting them at breakneck speed, and urgent care physicians, eager to please, rarely said no. On the other end of the spectrum, all of my time at Columbia University Medical Center / New York-Presbyterian Hospital has been hopeful, where fostering “antibiotic stewardship” is the norm - a set of coordinated strategies to improve the use of antimicrobial medications with the goal of enhancing patient health outcomes and reducing resistance to antibiotics (and preventing superfluous health care spending).

When you use antibiotics unnecessarily, in addition to promoting bacterial infections that can’t be treated in the future for both you but also millions of others, you are also completely altering your microbiome, both in your gut and otherwise. That is, you’re killing off good bacteria in your intestines that are necessary for all sorts of important functions as well as in other parts of your body (ahem, think about such distressing things as yeast infections).

I have seen some horrific infections in the hospital in my day, and still commonly do when I'm working on the hospital wards. These are infections where patients may be required to stay in healthcare facilities for months at a time. Physicians like me have to don impervious spacesuit-like gowns, hoping to avoid being colonized by scary bacteria such as resistant Staph aureus, Enterococcus, and C. diff. Then there are things like resistant strains of gonorrhea... enough said.

So the next time you’re sick, if you and your physician or health care provider decide together that you require antibiotics, make sure you’re taking them for a very specific reason. Educate yourself. Ask questions. Check out the CDC's website to find some great patient information to learn more about the basics.

And, if you’d like to go more in depth, take a look at this great New York Times article, this Telegraph UK article, and this interesting Consumer Reports article

Not to fear monger, but this is no joke...

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The Year of Yes is a weekly photo-and-word installment by Dr. Shah written with the purpose of evoking hope, resilience, and a gentle movement toward healthy change in all of us.