Health Concerns

Bacterial Infections

Conventional Treatments for Bacterial Infections: Antibiotics and Resistant Bacteria

Antibiotics are the mainstay of bacterial treatment (Archer 2004). The goal of these drugs is to kill invading bacteria without harming the host. Antibiotic effectiveness depends on mechanism of action, drug distribution, site of infection, immune status of the host, and resistance factors of bacteria (Archer 2004; Roden 2004).

Antibiotics work through several mechanisms. Some (such as vancomycin and penicillin) inhibit formation of bacterial cell walls. Erythromycin, tetracycline, and chloramphenicol interrupt protein synthesis. Still others inhibit bacterial metabolism (sulfa drugs) or interfere with DNA synthesis (ciprofloxacin, rifampin) and/or cell membrane permeability (polymyxin b) (Conte 2002).

When antibiotics were discovered in the 1940s, they were incredibly effective in bacterial infection treatment. Over time, however, many antibiotics have lost effectiveness against common bacterial infections because of increasing drug resistance (Barie 1998; Domin 1998). Bacteria may be naturally resistant to different classes of antibiotics or may acquire resistance from other bacteria through exchange of resistant genes. Indiscriminate, inappropriate, and prolonged use of antibiotics have selected out the most antibiotic-resistant bacteria (Petrosillo 2002; van der Waaij 2000). Antibiotic-resistant strains have emerged in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and communities worldwide (Flaherty 1996; Jacobs 1999; Levin 2003).

For example, S. aureus is a common bacterial pathogen that causes pneumonia, skin and urinary tract infections, as well as blood and surgical site infections. Some strains that are resistant to all current antibiotics, including vancomycin, have emerged in the United States and Japan. Antibiotic-resistant organisms lead to increased hospitalizations, health costs, and mortality (Amsden 2004; Apfalter 2003; Austin 1999; Baggett 2004; Barie 1998; Bonten 2001; Borer 2002; Tasota 1998).

Besides increased drug resistance, high-dose and prolonged antimicrobial therapy can eliminate helpful bacterial flora and predispose people to infection (Carson 2003; Guarner 2003). A common adverse effect of antibiotics is diarrhea, which can lead to loss of essential vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin K, magnesium, and zinc (Briend 1988; Brunser 1977; Fontaine 1996; Guerrant 2000). Other adverse effects of antibiotic therapy include vitamin deficiencies, seizures, allergic shock (in people who are allergic to antibiotics), autoimmune disease, decreased platelets, kidney injury, drug/drug interaction, and death (Roden 2004).

What You Have Learned So Far...

  • Bacteria can be found colonizing every surface of our environment(s), and some even live inside our digestive, respiratory, and genitourinary tracts. Bacteria can be either beneficial or harmful.
  • A compromised immune system raises the risk of infection from harmful bacteria. Also, advanced age, a genetic predisposition, or compromised nutritional status can raise the risk of bacterial infection.
  • Bacteria can cause a wide range of illnesses, from gastrointestinal upset and skin disorders to life-threatening illnesses that require immediate attention. Dangerous bacteria that cause illness include Streptococcus species, E. coli, and salmonella. Bacterial illnesses include diarrhea, respiratory illness, and pneumonia.
  • The mainstay of bacterial infection treatment is antibiotics. While antibiotics work in the majority of cases, indiscriminate use of antibiotics has resulted in the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria.
  • A healthy immune system and proper nutritional status can help stave off bacterial infection or improve the immune response to infection. An inflammatory immune response to bacterial infection can result in further injury to cells and tissues.