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Misuse of antibiotics leads to resistance

November 8, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
What happens when your body becomes so used to antibiotics that it can no longer fight off serious or even simple infections? A reckless use of antibiotics may be behind a growing public health problem.

Bryce, 7, has a healthy imagination and a love for dinosaurs. But the fact he's healthy, or even here, is a dream come true for his parents - one that began with their worst nightmare.

"It just happened to be his immune system was down whenever he touched something," said Bryce's mother, Katie Smith.

Doctors first diagnosed the then 14-month-old with the flu, then pneumonia. But when his persistent cough and rapid breathing prompted a trip to the emergency room, an x-ray revealed something no one expected.

"MRSA had actually eaten a hole through his lung," said Katie Smith.

Community-acquired, antibiotic-resistant MRSA. No one knows how he got it, but Bryce spent 40 days in a coma, fighting for his life.

"To see a little 14-month-old baby with five chest tubes coming out of him, it's just something you never want to go through," said Bryce's father, Scott Smith.

Doctors say while overall cases of MRSA are down, other hospital-acquired bugs are increasing.

"Pseudomonas, acinetobacter, klebsiella - those are the three worst players right now. We're running out of stuff to throw at them," said Dr. Brad Spellberg, an infectious disease expert at UCLA.

Experts say the resistance is caused by overuse, or misuse of antibiotics. Spellberg says the best ways to fight them is through better practices, such as washing your hands, cooking your food and living a healthy lifestyle.

"Find out where the infections are occurring," said Spellberg.

You may also want to think twice about not finishing your prescription. Experts say the resistant bacteria can emerge when patients don't take the full course of their prescribed antibiotics.

For the Smiths, Bryce's brush with death is now just a memory.

Spellberg says 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. actually go to feed livestock, which can lead to resistance in humans. He hopes the government will focus more on limiting that antibiotic use first.

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