How Targeting Mild Infections Could Slow the Spread of Antibiotic Resistance

Jan 8, 2018

More than 20,000 Americans die of antibiotic-resistant infections each year, and that number is expected to rise. Efforts to overcome antibiotic resistance have largely focused on finding new ways to treat the most deadly infections. But a new analysis suggests that focusing on alternative treatments for mild infections might actually be more fruitful, and could reduce antibiotic resistance overall.

Kristofer Wollein Waldetoft, a postdoctoral researcher at Georgia Institute of Technology and lead author of the study, says the bar is lower when developing treatments for things like strep throat or urinary tract infections. They're just easier to treat. And, of course, they're not life-threatening emergencies, which gives researchers and clinicians some time and leeway to try alternatives.

What's more, these mild infections tend to be the most common causes for antibiotic prescriptions. That means that switching to alternative treatments for these infections could relieve the strong evolutionary pressure for bacteria to develop and maintain antibiotic resistance. Wollein Waldetoft says that would not only slow the spread of antibiotic resistance, it might even result in some bacterial strains dropping their current antibiotic resistance.

So, just what are the alternatives? Wollein Waldetoft says there are numerous possibilities, including chemicals that interrupt bacterial communication and viruses which naturally attack bacteria. He also notes that, in some cases, symptom management or no treatment at all could become the norm.

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