It was just a small, angry bump when it first showed up on Don Mullis’ hand.
He’d been doing yard work and felt a pinch when he reached into a box where he stores gas cans. He must have been bitten by one of the spiders living near the box.
“Didn’t think much about it,” he said. “Went in and did my first aid on it.” But then the spider bite got infected. “It was eating the flesh away from my body—that’s when I got concerned.”
“The bottom line is that we are not being responsible enough when it comes to antibiotic usage.”
– Stephen Trent, UGA Foundation Distinguished Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine
‘The Fight of Our Lives’
The cause of the antibiotic resistance crisis is multifold.
Industrial agriculture adds antibiotics to feed to keep animals in close quarters from getting sick but in doing so puts antibiotics into the meat people consume.
Some physicians prescribe antibiotics to patients with viral infections—despite antibiotics being ineffective against viruses—because patients expect to leave the doctor’s office with medication.
People feel better after a couple of days and stop taking antibiotics before their prescription actually runs out.
Mullis, however, strictly followed doctor’s orders. After months of applying ointments and a year of popping pills, his infection abated. He was lucky.
So, what’s the solution, if you can call it that?
Scientists have started “shelving” antibiotics, putting new antibiotics on hold until the next drug-resistant bacterium strikes rather than putting to immediate use. Physicians are being taught to use antibiotics only as a last resort and only for infections that are caused by bacteria and therefore respond to antibiotic treatment. Public relations campaigns in the United Kingdom and elsewhere abroad encourage citizens to use up their prescriptions and to be understanding when their doctors deny them one.
As for Trent, he’ll continue to look for the chink in the armor coating of bacteria, poking holes until he figures out how to break it open.
“The bottom line is that we are not being responsible enough when it comes to antibiotic usage,” he says. “We are in the fight of our lives against antibiotic resistance. But most of us don’t even know it.”
About the Researcher
UGA Foundation Distinguished Professor
Department of Infectious Diseases
College of Veterinary Medicine