November is a significant month in health awarenesses, but Antibiotic Awareness Week from November 12-18 may be the most polarizing. It’s also perhaps the most interesting – especially to Baby Boomers (people born between 1946-1964) and GenXers (people born early-to-mid 1960s to the early 1980s). The week focuses on raising awareness “of the threat of antibiotic resistance and the importance of appropriate antibiotic use” – appropriate being the keyword.
Antibiotic resistance can be deadly
Based on emerging research, antibiotics aren’t always the best option. If patients are inappropriately over prescribed antibiotics and take them unnecessarily, the benefits can backfire. People build up a tolerance that can lead to “antibiotic resistance, one of the most urgent threats to the public’s health.”
Why is antibiotic resistance such a threat? Because bacteria that can typically be treated with antibiotics becomes a deadly threat. Recent research shows that “each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result. Many more die from complications from antibiotic-resistant infections.”
During National Healthcare Quality Week, we explored the initiative to prevent healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). Some of these dangerous bacterial infections could be treated with antibiotics, but if someone is resistant to antibiotics, they become deadly antibiotic-resistant infections instead.
Such infections are a significant cause of illness and death — and they can have devastating emotional, financial, and medical consequences. Approximately “ 1 in 25 inpatients have an infection related to hospital care” at any given time. There’s cost of these infections: tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars each year.
This is precisely why public awareness initiatives such as Antibiotic Awareness Week are so important.
Can antibiotics eradicate chronic back pain?
On the flip side, popular media went wild for a 2013 study that seemed to say antibiotics could be useful and effective when it comes to easing chronic pain caused by chronic conditions. But the backlash was quick. The UK’s National Health Service quickly debunked the media’s assertions and clarified the researchers’ conclusions. Key points from the clarification include:
- “As strong as this research it is, it is not definitive. Further research, most likely with larger numbers of people in the study, will be needed to confirm these findings before any treatment is likely to be approved and licensed for routine use…”
- “Crucially, the study recruited a very select group of lower back pain sufferers who showed small changes in their vertebrae next to the site of a previous slipped disc. This select group therefore is not representative of all lower back pain sufferers.”
- “This research certainly does not advocate giving antibiotics to all lower back pain sufferers.”
- “Even if all these hurdles are overcome, media talk of a ‘back pain cure’ could still be premature. Antibiotics may help relieve symptoms, but there is currently no conclusive evidence that they can correct the underlying causes of chronic back pain.”
Research published in 2017 explored the “clinical effect of antibiotic treatment for patients with low back pain and Modic 1 changes.” These changes are “the result of fissuring of the endplates with the development of vascular granulation tissue adjacent to the endplates, resulting in bone marrow oedema” and are frequently seen in those who experience lower back pain. Their conclusion: antibiotics for the treatment of low back pain in relation to Modic 1 changes “did not generally provide significant improvement in pain and function for patients in this small cohort. Despite early excitement regarding this treatment, further research is required.”