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Medical professionals concerned antibiotics creating 'super' bacteria

February 19, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Diverticulitis, or infection in the colon, occurs in half of Americans over the age of 60. It's a condition often treated with antibiotics. But in more and more cases the medication doesn't work. Now there are growing concerns that antibiotic resistance is leading to more "super" bugs that can't easily be treated.

In December 2009, emergency room doctors told 52-year-old Tom Dukes he was on the verge of death.

"You have perforated your colon. We don't know how long you've been bleeding and poisoning yourself, but we're going to operate immediately," said Dukes. "You don't have a lot of time left."

Dukes had no idea why this was happening. He had diverticulitis before. Antibiotics took the pain away. But this time he had a huge hole in his colon. The infection spread everywhere.

"I had lost 8 inches of my colon and they had taken my appendix," said Dukes.

"And then it was discovered after going to the operating room that the reason he had failed treatment is he had a very resistant bacteria," said Dr. Brad Spellberg, L.A. Biomedical Research Institute.

Dr. Spellberg suspects it was caused by Dukes' prior exposure to Cipro. He says tens of thousands of people carry "super bacteria" and don't know it.

"The more antibiotics people are exposed to the greater the risk that they are going to acquire and keep in their body bacteria resistant to antibiotics," said Spellberg.

Spellberg says doctors need to be more conservative in prescribing antibiotics. He says what happened to Dukes is a classic example of what can go wrong if people don't pay attention to their symptoms.

"If you are given an antibiotic and you're not feeling better in the first day or two, you need to call your doctor and discuss whether this could be a resistant infection and you need to come back for a different antibiotic," said Spellberg.

Spellberg and his colleagues are investigating new ways to render bacteria harmless without trying to kill them, which creates resistance.

Spellberg and Dukes also went to Capitol Hill to ask Congress to support more research for newer antibiotics.

Dukes believes the only way he can prevent this in others is to share his story.

"I'm like your son, I'm your grandfather, I'm your uncle, I'm that guy in your family that it could happen to in anybody's family," said Dukes.

Dukes had to undergo IV antibiotic treatments, two surgeries and months of recovery.

To avoid resistant bugs, Dr. Spellberg's advice is to wash your hands constantly, use antibiotics sparingly and avoid using antibacterial soaps and cleaners.


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