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Health Team

Antibiotics can undermine body's defenses

Posted November 19, 2010 1:13 p.m. EST
Updated November 19, 2010 6:31 p.m. EST

— Doctors are cautious about prescribing antibiotics due to concerns that patients will build up resistance to the drugs and that antibiotics can undermine the body's resistance to certain infections.

Ashley Sims, 30, went on antibiotics as a preventative measure after a dental treatment. A month later, she had what she thought was an intestinal virus and waited for it to run its course.

"But on the fourth day, it was just continuously getting worse and worse," she said.

Sims went to the First Health Moore Regional emergency room and discovered that she had Clostridium difficile, or C-Diff.

"It can be a life-threatening infection, causing enough damage and inflammation of the colon and (can) cause sepsis" – a bacterial infection of the bloodstream – said infectious disease specialist Dr. Paul Jawanda.

C-Diff is a common bacteria for which most people have a natural resistance. However, when competing bacteria are wiped out by antibiotics, the C-Diff bacteria can dominate and cause infection.

The disease can be transmitted from person to person through hand-to-mouth contact. The bacteria can live on surfaces for weeks or months, and only cleansers containing bleach are effective at killing it.

C-Diff is a frequent problem in hospitals and nursing homes, but Jawanda said that the disease is becoming more frequent outside those settings, as well.

Treatment for C-Diff might involve using antibiotics, but prescribing the drugs should never be taken lightly, doctors said.

"Weigh the benefit to that patient versus the risk to that patient," Jawanda said.

Sims said that she's learned more about when to seek antibiotic medications.

"I'm more aware of it if my children need antibiotics – if they really need them (or) if it's something that we should and see if it will get better on its own," Sims said.