Antibiotic apocalypse topic of the School of Pharmacy’s fourth annual public lecture

Monday, November 16, 2015

Audience watching Dr. Brett Barrett lecture.96% of patients who ask physicians to prescribe antibiotics will receive them.

To School of Pharmacy assistant professors Brett Barrett and Kelly Grindrod, that is a problem. Antibiotics are effective tools for fighting infectious diseases, but misinformation surrounds when and why they should be used. The public lecture delivered by Grindrod and Barrett on November 12th acknowledged the important contribution antibiotics have made and continue to make to human health and addressed the many myths surrounding the medications.

To School of Pharmacy assistant professors Brett Barrett and Kelly Grindrod, that is a problem. Antibiotics are effective tools for fighting infectious diseases, but misinformation surrounds when and why they should be used. The public lecture delivered by Grindrod and Barrett on November 12th acknowledged the important contribution antibiotics have made and continue to make to human health and addressed the many myths surrounding the medications.

Dr. Kelly Grindrod lecturing."A hundred years ago, we died from infections…  a hundred years later we live in the age of degenerative and man-made diseases. We have obesity, we have diabetes, we have cardiovascular disease. We live a long life and end up with Alzheimer’s,” said Grindrod as she charted the impact of antibiotics over the last century. The audience of community members and pharmacy students learned how antibiotics have made medical procedures that were once extremely risky routine. However, extensive antibiotic use comes at a price – antibiotic resistance.

Right now an estimated 700,000 people die in the world of antibiotic-resistant infections each year. By 2050 an estimated 10 million people will die each year from resistant infection,” Grindrod notes.

So, while antibiotics are effective in fighting bacterial infections, Barrett and Grindrod both emphasized their inability to impact the course of viral infections. Using antibiotics needlessly allows bacteria in the body to become resistant, rendering antibiotic treatment less effective later when it may be desperately needed. Widespread antibiotic misuse is causing scientists and clinicians to warn of an impending “antibiotic apocalypse”, a situation where we no longer have any effective antibiotics for life-threatening infections.

​Barrett, who is also the infectious disease pharmacist at Grand River Hospital, shared strategies for averting this apocalypse. Everyone can prevent infections by adopting proper handwashing (use water, soap and scrub for at least twenty seconds) and coughing routines (cough into the elbow). Patients should consider asking physicians if they can wait a few days and monitor an infection before starting antibiotics. 

Barrett explained that “this strategy works for a variety of things: ear infections in children, sinus infections in adults. You can give the antibiotic prescription and say ‘hold off, you might start to feel better on your own and if you don’t you have that safety net”.

Dr. Brett Barrett lecturing.Minimizing antibiotic use minimizes the chance of building antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but there are other benefits as well. Decreasing antibiotic use avoids side effects like diarrhea, rashes, allergies or even more dangerous conditions that are caused by antibiotics. For example, prolific antibiotic use in hospitals has given rise to deadly infections caused by Clostridium difficile, also known as “C. diff”. C. diff is a bacterium that grows in the body once antibiotics have killed the normal bacteria in the gut. The C. diff bacteria then produce toxins resulting in diarrhea which leads to death in one of every twenty cases.

Audience members asking questions.Despite the dire warnings, Barrett and Grindrod remained positive throughout and fielded questions from the audience, helping them understand how they can be part of the fight against the antibiotic apocalypse, especially as it relates to antibiotic use in agriculture. As Grindrod summarizes: “Lobbying… government, farming communities, going to farmer’s markets and speaking with farmers, going to grocery stores and buying antibiotic free products – those are all things we can be doing.”

The School of Pharmacy free lecture was themed to coincide with the World Health Organization’s Antibiotic Awareness Week, November 16- 22. The CBC also interviewed Dr. Grindrod on this topic: see this link https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/antibiotics-apocalypse-pharmacy-professor-1.3314749

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