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Drug-resistant bacteria blamed on overuse, underuse of antibiotics

HARTFORD — A new report from the World Health Organization came to a paradoxical, but nonetheless worrying conclusion about antibiotic use world-wide: A rise in multi-drug-resistant bacteria can be traced to both some countries over-using antibiotics, AND some countries under-using them.

The report looked at antibiotic use in 65 countries, and found widely varying rates of usage. Mongolia topped the list with 64 defined daily doses per 1,000 people. For reference, Europe averaged 18. Burundi had the lowest rate, at 4.4 doses per 1,000 people, a finding that suggests the country, and a number of others, may not have adequate access to antibiotic usage.

Frequent antibiotic use has been cited as the cause for a big rise in drug-resistant bacteria, to the point that some experts claim the world is running out of effective antibiotics.

Dr. Michael White, from the UConn School of Pharmacy, said individual underuse of antibiotics also plays a role.

“They have a bacterial infection, they take it. A day and a half later, they’re feeling really good so they decide they’re not going to take the rest of it, and the infection comes back.” He said, “they’ve killed off the weak, they’ve decreased the bacterial count so they’re feeling better, but the strong ones are still there, the strong ones have still survived and then you just exposed them to that and then they’re more likely to get resistant.”

White said, while more new antibiotics are being developed, so is another line of attack – probiotics. Think of it as fighting fire with fire, or at least fighting bacteria with bacteria.

“The idea behind probiotics is not that you’re trying to kill the bacteria that might be bad, but what you try to do is you try to crowd them out,” White said. “You try to get them so that you build up a barrier or a wall so that they’re less likely to overgrow.”