I have worked in the field of Medical Law since 1997 and am aware that a significant number of our Clients have contracted infections whilst having medical treatment. Infections such as c-difficile and MRSA have affected many patients and the threat of contracting such an infection is high when standards of cleanliness are not maintained.
Antibiotics should only be prescribed for bacterial infections and should never be prescribed for viral infections. Viral infections include colds and flu and these and are often responsible for some cases of diarrhoea and infections of the nose, sinuses, ears and throat. In these cases, antibiotics would be ineffective as your body’s immune system will help you to recover from these viral infections naturally. Each time an antibiotic is prescribed incorrectly or if the full course isn’t taken can lead to the development of antibiotic resistance. Microbes can quickly mutate and develop resistance to antibiotics. If all antibiotics stopped working in the future then common infections may kill again and surgery and cancer treatment could become riskier as the patient will have a weakened immune system and be more susceptible to bacterial infection.
Many people have heard of hospital “superbugs”, such as MRSA, E-coli, and C-difficile which tend to be resistant to antibiotic treatment. MRSA may live harmlessly on our skin and in our noses when we are healthy and as many as 3% of us are carriers but it can become dangerous when it affects those who are already ill. It is generally spread by direct or indirect contact (touching a surface such as a door handle or work surface for example). Carriers of MRSA can be treated with antiseptic shampoo, powder and cream to reduce or remove MRSA from hair, skin and nostrils, and antibiotics may also be taken as prescribed, and you should always ensure you wash your hands thoroughly when visiting anyone susceptible to infection, such as those in hospital, the elderly or very young.
C-difficile is another bacterium which generally lives harmlessly in the gut and when you are well, “good bacteria” will keep it in check. When antibiotics are prescribed, sometimes the C-Difficile bacteria take over the gut and release toxins causing symptoms such as diarrhoea, loss of appetite, nausea, fever and abdominal pain and tenderness. Currently, treatment of C-difficile generally involves the patient being prescribed a different sort of antibiotic. Scientists in America however have discovered that by introducing spores of non-toxin producing C-difficile into those displaying symptoms of infection of the toxin-producing bacteria, the friendlier bacteria can take over the spaces in the gut previously occupied by the toxin-producing C-difficile strain in 69% of cases treated. Of those treated, 1 in 50 faced another infection. A larger clinical trial is being planned, with the ambition being to administer non-toxin producing spores to people who are about to go on a course of antibiotics and as a consequence prevent infection by the toxin producing strain.
Therefore, if someone you know has recently been treated with a long course of antibiotics, has had gastrointestinal surgery, had a recent long stay in hospital, a serious underlying illness or is over the age of 65, then expert advice is to ensure you follow good hand hygiene, remember to clean surfaces with bleach based household detergents or disinfectants to try to limit the spread of bacteria in your environment. The use of antibiotics could be limited in future.