The personal side of antibiotic resistance

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Erick Labrie is an active 6-year-old boy from Matane, Québec who loves to play outside. These days, when Erick’s mother tells him to wear a scarf around his neck he actually does what he’s told. That’s because Eric spent nine long months battling a resistant bacterial pneumonia. And no one wants him to risk developing another infection.

Most kids who get pneumonia are treated with antibiotics. Their symptoms improve within days, never to return. Erick was not so fortunate. His pneumonia began in March 2003 and kept recurring until mid-December, ending only after several emergency room visits and a six-day stay in hospital. His treatment included a procedure known as a bronchoscopy as well as additional antibiotics that were administered intravenously.

“I didn’t know that there was such a thing as resistance to antibiotics” says Lyne Ouellet, Erick’s mom. “Or, if I had heard something about it, it had passed in one ear and out the other.”

Lyne is not alone. A survey conducted in January, 2002 found that one-in-four Canadians believed that resistance was not a problem that could affect them. The survey was conducted on behalf of the National Information Program on Antibiotics (NIPA) – a coalition of physician, pharmacist and patient organizations that works to raise awareness about the appropriate use of antibiotics as part of the ongoing fight to contain antibiotic resistance.

“Canadians are very fortunate to have access to effective antibiotics, but we can’t take it for granted,” says Dr. Franois Boucher, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and chair of NIPA. “Cases like Erick’s illustrate the consequences of antibiotic resistance and the profound importance of keeping resistance rates as low as possible.”

Up until his bout with pneumonia, Erick had been prescribed antibiotics on only two other occasions. This demonstrates that anyone can be affected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, regardless of how often they may have used antibiotics in the past. “When they told me there was a resistant bug I was very concerned,” says Lyne. “I started asking what does this mean? Is it dangerous for him? Is this common? What can we do about it?”

An antibiotic is designed to seek out specific elements within the bacteria causing the infection. But over the years, common antibiotics like penicillin have been used so much that many disease-causing bacteria have become resistant. Infections caused by resistant bacteria become more difficult, and sometimes impossible, to treat.

Patients, physicians and pharmacists all have an important role to keep antibiotic resistance in check. If you have a cold or the flu, taking antibiotics won’t help because they’re ineffective against viruses. If you are prescribed antibiotics for an a bacterial infection, such as bacterial bronchitis or strep throat, it’s important to take all the your medication, not just until your symptoms improve. And never take antibiotics that have been prescribed for someone else.

“The worst part was the anxiety of not knowing what was really wrong with him, and whether any of the medications were actually going to work,” admits Erick’s father, Luis. “We were very concerned.”

We all need to be concerned, agrees Dr. Boucher. “We cannot afford to be complacent. We must remain vigilant and continue to work towards appropriate antibiotic use.”

“If we don’t use antibiotics wisely, they may not be effective when we really need them,” says Dr. Boucher. “That would have a real impact on the lives of many Canadians like Erick and his parents.”

For more information on antibiotics and antibiotic resistance, visit www.antibiotics-info.org.