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An Anti-Antibiotic Adventure

July 28th, 2013

By Robert Armstrong

I am not a medical doctor and this is not meant to be medical advice.

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are medicines that are used to kill bacteria that cause infections (Staph [MRSA and common], E-Coli, etc.) that our own symbiotic bacteria are unable to eradicate. [1]

Antibiotics, it turns out, either have a big ego or just aren’t very smart, because when they kill, they don’t discriminate between the "enemy" bacteria that are causing the infection and the “beneficial” bacteria in your body that are helping your immune system fight the infection.

Darwin’s Theory of Bacteria is that there are weak and strong bacteria that cause infections. Antibiotics only kill the weak bacteria, leaving the strong ones to evolve into what has become known as the Super Bug.

In order to understand what is really going on, we need a short course in antibiotic resistance, a common problem found worldwide.

Antibiotic resistance results from the

  • rampant over-use by the Drug companies because they keep pushing them on unsuspecting patients
  • rampant over-use by the Doctors who keep prescribing these drugs for viral infections they can’t treat; or given to patients who demand them for every illness
  • rampant over-use by the Food industry that keeps injecting them into the livestock we are eating
  • rampant under-use by patients who for whatever reason don’t take the entire course of antibiotics prescribed by their physician

Antibiotic resistance has resulted in what has become known as the Super Bacteria or the “enemy” bacteria; bacteria strong enough to resist the antibiotics the drug companies have developed to fight infections.

A common belief is that, “not taking the entire course of antibiotics prescribed by a physician,” is as or is more serious, than the rampant over-use.

You have probably heard the speech just about every doctor, dentist and veterinarian has memorized word for word, when you ask for/or they give you, antibiotics.

“Take the entire course even if you feel better or else you might not kill all of the “bad bacteria” and bad things will happen.”

According to these experts, when someone does not take the full course of their antibiotic medicine, the bad bacteria left in your body [that the antibiotics failed to kill] become the Super Bacteria. Your infection can last longer and instead of getting better you might get worse and have to make several visits to your doctor’s office.

You might even have to switch medications or go to a hospital to get stronger antibiotics given intravenously.

But the worse part of “your” irresponsible actions (not the irresponsible actions of the Doctors, Drug Companies and the Food Industry) is that you could be exposing your family, friends and anyone you come into contact with to the Super Bug resistant bacteria you are now carrying.

Then, these people might also develop infections that are hard to treat. You are damned if you do and damned if you don't Catch 22. If you take them when you don’t need them, or don’t take enough of them when the doctor says you need them, then you increase the risk that you, or someone else, will someday get a “Super illness" that is caused by resistant bacteria.

Click here to read An antibiotic primer, Don’t Put Your Antibiotics at Risk By (not for) a dummy published at the Consumer Health Information Corporation and Howard University School of Pharmacy.

This antibiotic medical folklore is unmitigated medical nonsense and would be dismissed out of hand if not for a massive PR campaign exhorting us to take every pill in that bottle OR ELSE we will unleash the Super Bugs in our community (Community-Acquired Methicillin-Resistant Staph aureus (CA-MRSA)) [2]

What if your doctor prescribed the wrong dose or the wrong antibiotic? What if the antibiotic started working but then stopped, or never worked at all? When was the last time your doctor considered your body type, weight and history when he told you to take 10 days of one of the most dangerous drugs you can put in your body. Click here to read why Richard Everts at Nelson Hospital believes that for some conditions, stopping an antibiotic regiment early when you feel better is common, logical, effective and has potential benefits on resistance and side effects.

Has your Doctor ever told you about probiotics? The absence of probiotic information should be considered medical malpractice. Click here to read If probiotics are essential, why don’t doctors prescribe them?

My Anti-Antibiotic Adventure

My adventure with antibiotics began in May of this year. [3]

On that date I ventured into a foreign “sanitary” environment and caught the MRSA Super Bug.

The location was home to a disabled bedridden 92-year old male suffering from dementia, CHF, and COPD with all of the accessories of a hospital room but no hand washing dispensers for visitors.

Unless you are living under a rock you have noticed those antibacterial cleansers, wipes and hand washing dispensers cropping up everywhere in our community. They encompass an idiotic strategy that we can avoid infections if we keep washing the Super Bugs off our hands before they take up residence in our bodies.

And while I might agree that washing my hands after my visit might have avoided the painful infection I got that day, what about future encounters? A strategy of sanitizing your hands all of the time is doomed to fail because you can’t be 100% effective.

Yes, I am aware that the experts are touting hand hygiene as the way to fight the Super Bugs, but the 'Clean Your Hands' campaigns are Hospital based only and are targeted at Doctors and Nurses, who it turns out, are MRSA carriers.

What is a carrier? Carriers have living MRSA bacteria on or inside their bodies. Roughly 30% of people carry Staph bacteria (and a smaller percent carry MRSA) on their skin and/or in their upper respiratory tract (inside their nose) and don’t even know it. They may never get infected and often have no idea they carry it. These people are called “carriers.” [from the Staph Infection Resources Website]

A carrier is a person who has the MRSA bacteria in their system but does not have the infection. The carriers were spreading the infection because they were not washing their hands consistently between every patient.

In fact, without encouragement, hospital workers clean their hands as little as 30% of the time after they interact with patients. The New York Times reported “the problem is so bad that some hospitals are so desperate to contain the costs associated with MRSA infections, they are resorting to electronically tracking the movements of nurses and doctors and reminding them, if they forget, to wash before handling the next patient.” [4]

Even a medical moron understands that sanitizing your hands isn’t eliminating or winning the battle with MRSA. Sanitizing your hands is only keeping a carrier from spreading the infection among the patients in the Hospital environment. The problem in the community is getting worse and cannot be solved by a clean hands strategy. A new government data estimate that about 2,000 people are dying of community-based MRSA every year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes that MRSA in the community is on the rise and alerts Doctors that “a patient presenting a complaint of “spider bite” should raise suspicion of MRSA, an S. aureus infection.”

MRSA was recently featured in a 60 Minutes segment. “Three years ago the superbug used to strike exclusively hospital and nursing home patients but now a relatively new community-based MRSA is attacking perfectly healthy people who have never set foot in a hospital.”

So while the rates of MRSA in the Hospital setting are falling because the Doctors and Nurses, carriers of MRSA, are forced to wash their hands, the rates in the community are on the rise and no one has an answer.

Even if you believe that you can survive by sanitizing your hands, there is evidence that washing your hands all of the time, may make you more, not less, susceptible to MRSA.

The World's #1 Natural Health Website, Mercola.com, exposes a number of widely held myths about washing and exposing your hands to gloves and chemicals, especially soaps containing triclosan. It turns out that the compulsive use of antibacterial soaps and other antimicrobial products can be shown to significantly contribute to the growing antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The rise in community associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) infections correlates with the presence and the rampant over-use of hand hygiene products and dispensers in the community.

When we use the antimicrobial wipes with toxic chemicals to sanitize our hands we are now destroying the symbiotic biota (good bacteria) that help protect us from infection.

Think about your hands, they are your first line of defense against germs that cause infections. When you sanitize your hands you are doing the very same thing antibiotics do; you are killing the friendly bacteria along with the enemy and in the process compromise your immune system.

In the end you are more vulnerable, not less, to the harmful bacteria lurking in your community looking for a host.

Our fear of getting MRSA is making sure that we will get MRSA.

Back to my Recent MRSA Adventure

Prior to setting foot in the 92-year old’s room, I had never had a common, let alone a MRSA Staph infection. I ignored the growing pus-filled boil on my leg and did not give my body the rest it needed to fight the infection.

I suffered for six days when I was forced to the local urgent care facility. Here is a picture of my right thigh before the wound was painfully lanced, drained and a culture sent to the lab.

When the lancing was over and I stopped hyperventilating due to the pain, I was given the standard antibiotic speech:

“I am putting you on a 10-day course of Bactrim DS, the infection specialists first choice wide spectrum antibiotic known to treat MRSA. Please, I implore you, even if you feel better, don’t stop taking these pills until they are all gone … or you know … you will be putting all of humanity at risk.”

Next I was given detailed instructions about how to care for the wound but nothing about probiotics. I asked the nurse and doctor if I should take probiotics.

The doctor looked puzzled but the nurse was concerned. She suggested I wait until all of the Bactrim was gone before taking probiotics. She didn’t want the Bactrim to work too hard killing off the extra bacteria in my system, huh? Not prescribing pro- with anti- biotics ought to be considered medical malpractice.

And while I have a history of never taking antibiotics or sanitizing my hands, the MRSA was serious enough that I took every Bactrim and subjected my hands to the alcohol based antimicrobial solutions during the next 10 days.

Below is the image of my thigh at the end of the 10 days.

Just as I was starting to feel better, I noticed a welt below my knee on my right leg. Did you know that 30% of us have common Staph or the MRSA bacteria living in our noses? And while I was compulsively washing my hands it turns out that I had scratched the welt the one time I didn’t wash my hands after picking my nose.

Here is an image of the infection after I transferred the bacteria from my nose to my leg.

I then realized I was in BIG trouble. I had just finished 10 days of Bactrim and a week later I have another infection almost as painful and just as debilitating as the MRSA. What can explain why the Bactrim killed the MRSA but failed to eradicate the bacteria in my nose? I called urgent care but they had no answer. I was told to “come in and we can lance the new infection and get you on more antibiotics.”

I was adamant that I will not take any more antibiotics. I needed to find a way to beat this one without taking any more antibiotics.

I rested and took natural supplements to boost my immune system for several days but the infection was getting worse and I was worried it might spread into my knee.

Against the advice of my In-House medical scientist I "gently" squeezed the infected area and pus started oozing out. Unfortunately there was no change in the size of the wound or the pain. We also noticed that icing the wound didn’t help and actually caused my body to develop a rash of itchy welts.

I was ready to accept that the infection needed to be lanced and wanted to know if I could open and drain the wound without taking antibiotics. I contacted my physician neighbor who agreed to see me at his house that night. My neighbor diagnosed the wound as common Staph and sent me home with instructions to use warm compresses and a 10-day prescription of Augmentin 875. I gave in and got the 20 pills of Augmentin. After two days of warm compresses and 4 Augmentin the infection was better but on the third day [2 more pills for a total of 6] the infection was no longer improving.

On the advice of my In-House medical scientist I agreed to another urgent care visit to find out what type infection I had and if it needed to be lanced.

The urgent care physician took one look at the wound and declared that it was MRSA. She took a culture but advised me to discontinue the Augmentin and switch to another 10 days of Bactrim DS. It would be four days before the lab results would be in.

Four days later the infection was almost gone and was healing on its own. Here is the image.

An Antibiotic Multiple Choice Question.

What did I do with the balance of the 20 Augmentin 875 [14] prescribed by Doctor 1 who diagnosed the infection as Staph and/or the 20 Bactrin DS prescribed by Doctor 2 who diagnosed the infection as MRSA but sent the culture to the lab [just to be sure].

  1. Switched to Bactrim and took them for 4 days [Total 6 Augmentin, 8 Bactrim].
  2. Continued the Augmentin [Total 14 Augmentin]
  3. Discontinued all antibiotics [Total 6 Augmentin]

Answer: Discontinued all antibiotics. Why? Two doctors with two different diagnoses convinced me to discontinue the antibiotics. I continued the warm compresses and two days later my infection improved dramatically … without taking any more antibiotics. The lab confirmed the infection was MRSA.

Epilogue: What I think happened.

The 10-day course of Bactrim and the constant hand washing routine put me in a vulnerable position for another infection on my right leg below the knee. Rest and two days of the antibiotic Augmentin, considered ineffective at treating MRSA, were enough to allow my immune system to take over and defeat the second MRSA infection on its own.

Conclusion: Don’t use those hand washing dispensers unless you are going into a Hospital environment and don’t take all of those antibiotics unless you are sure they are helping you. [5]

Have you had an interesting antibiotic experience? Email me at rarmstrong2006@gmail.com

Footnotes
[1]What is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)?

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection is caused by a strain of staph bacteria that's become resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat ordinary staph infections.

This organism is known for causing skin infections in addition to many other types of infections. There are other designations in the scientific literature for these bacteria according to where the bacteria are acquired by patients, such as community-acquired MRSA (also termed CA-MRSA or CMRSA), hospital-acquired or health-care-acquired MRSA (also termed HA-MRSA or HMRSA), or epidemic MRSA (EMRSA). Statistical data suggest that as many as 19,000 people per year have died from MRSA in the U.S.; data supplied by the CDC in 2010 suggest this number has declined by about 28% from 2005 to 2008, in part, because of prevention practices at hospitals and home care.

Although S. aureus has been causing infections (Staph infections) probably as long as the human race has existed, MRSA has a relatively short history. MRSA was first noted in 1961, about two years after the antibiotic methicillin was initially used to treat S. aureus and other infectious bacteria. The resistance to methicillin was due to a penicillin-binding protein coded for by a mobile genetic element termed the methicillin-resistant gene (mecA). In recent years, the gene has continued to evolve so that many MRSA strains are currently resistant to several different antibiotics such as penicillin, oxacillin, and amoxicillin (Amoxil, Dispermox, Trimox). HA-MRSA are often also resistant to tetracycline (Sumycin), erythromycin (E-Mycin, Eryc, Ery-Tab, PCE, Pediazole, Ilosone), and clindamycin (Cleocin). In 2009, research showed that many antibiotic-resistant genes and toxins are bundled and transferred together to other bacteria, which speed the development of toxic and resistant strains of MRSA. S. aureus is sometimes termed a "superbug" because of its ability to be resistant to several antibiotics.

Picture of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infection

What does a MRSA infection look like?

In addition, these organisms have been termed "flesh-eating bacteria" because of their occasional rapid spread and destruction of human skin.

Investigators estimate that about one out of every 100 people in the U.S. are colonized with MRSA (have the organisms in or on their body but not causing infection), and these individuals may transmit MRSA bacteria to others by the same methods listed above. Another term for people colonized with MRSA is "carrier" which means the person carries the organism in or on the body and may transfer the organism to another person who subsequently may become infected. A common place for carriers to harbor MRSA organisms is the nose.

Most MRSA infections occur in people who've been in hospitals or other health care settings, such as nursing homes and dialysis centers. When it occurs in these settings, it's known as health care-associated MRSA (HA-MRSA). HA-MRSA infections typically are associated with invasive procedures or devices, such as surgeries, intravenous tubing or artificial joints.

Another type of MRSA infection has occurred in the wider community — among healthy people. This form, community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA), often begins as a painful skin boil. It's spread by skin-to-skin contact. At-risk populations include groups such as high school wrestlers, child care workers and people who live in crowded conditions.

[2] Community-Acquired Methicillin-Resistant Staph aureus (CA-MRSA)

A Superbug that Found Among Athletes, Students, and Military Recruits

From Ingrid Koo, Ph.D., former About.com Guide, Updated January 13, 2009

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is a potentially deadly strain of Staph aureus that is resistant to several antibiotics. Previously associated with healthcare exposure, this superbug now also accounts for a growing amount of infections acquired among athletes, students, and the military without necessary healthcare exposure. Such strains of MRSA are known as Community Acquired MRSA (CA-MRSA). Fortunately, its spread can be limited with good hygiene practices.

[3] An adventure is defined as when you are in the middle of the experience you wish you were home watching TV in your favorite chair.

[4] The BMJ study found that the number of patients infected with MRSA fell from 1.88 cases per 10,000 bed days to 0.91 over the four-year period.

Superbug: An electron micrograph of the MRSA bacteria which has killed thousands of people, but is now on the decline in hospitals

There were around 1,000 deaths from MRSA and 4,000 deaths from C.diff each year in the mid-2000s, with the National Audit Office estimating that it cost over £1billion a year to treat people who developed the infection.

Rates for the superbugs MRSA rose significantly in the 1990s from just 100 a year to a peak of 7,700 in 2003 to 2004. Following the launch of the hand-washing campaign rates fell steadily each year to 1,481 cases in 2010 to 2011.

Enlarge MRSA cases started dropping in 2004 after the 'Clean Your Hands' campaign was launched

MRSA cases started dropping in 2004 after the 'Clean Your Hands' campaign was launched. Click enlarge to see greater detail

The Clean Your Hands campaign reminded visitors and staff to go back to basics by scrubbing their hands before touching patients, eating food and after going to the toilet.

[5] The human body hosts complex microbial communities whose combined membership outnumbers our own cells by at least a factor of ten (1, 2). Together, our ~100 trillion microbial symbionts (the human microbiota) endow us with crucial traits; for example, we rely on them to aid in nutrition, resist pathogens, and educate our immune system (1, 3). To understand the full range of human genetic and metabolic diversity, it is necessary to characterize the factors influencing the diversity and distribution of the human microbiota (4, 5).

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