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Widespread over prescription and misuse of antibiotics are promoting new strains of harmful bacteria that resist traditional treatments. This guide will help you understand the problem of bacterial resistance and offers tips to help prevent bacterial resistance.
Bacteria are microorganisms that exist everywhere — from the great outdoors to the cleanest of homes. When they get into our bodies, they can cause illnesses such as ear infections, strep throat, food poisoning and pneumonia.
Bacteria: Mycobacterium Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis and is responsible for more than three million deaths per year. More than eight million new cases of TB are diagnosed each year, and almost two ion people are latently infected with the tubercle bacillus.
Thin section transmission electron micrograph of Mycobacterium tuberculosis
TB has reemerged as a serious public health threat worldwide because of a significant increase in multiple-drug-resistant TB (mrdTB) and synergism between Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and M. tuberculosis infection. TB is transmitted from person to person by the aerosol route, and treatment requires a six to 12 month regimen with at least two antibiotics. Failure to complete the full course of drug therapy can lead to M. tuberculosis organisms that are resistant to one or more anti-tuberculosis drugs, severely limiting effective treatment options.
For unknown reasons, persons co-infected with HIV are particularly susceptible to TB. HIV-positive individuals are more likely to acquire primary TB disease upon initial infection, reactivate a latent TB infection, and experience an accelerated course of fatal disease when infected with mrdTB. Resolution of the current TB epidemic will require prevention of new TB infection as well as improved methods for treating existing disease. A better understanding of how tubercle bacilli establish infection at the cellular and molecular levels should facilitate the design of both new vaccines and treatment approaches.
Antibiotics vs. Bacteria
Antibiotics are powerful bacteria-killing drugs that help our bodies regain the upper hand when a bacterial infection develops. Today, there are hundreds of antibiotics in use, most tailored to treat a specific kind of bacterial infection. (That’s why taking unused antibiotics prescribed for one kind of bacterial infection won’t necessarily work against another. Never save anti-biotics; always finish the full course of treatment as prescribed.)
Our Bodies vs. Bacteria
Our body’s immune system uses specially designed cells to locate and shut down microscopic invaders like bacteria, usually stopping them before they can cause trouble. We get sick what is called a bacterial infection. when bacteria in our body reproduce faster than our immune system can kill them.
Doctors have noticed that some bacteria are getting tougher to kill. The usual antibiotic drugs don’t seem to work as well or work at all. Such bacteria are said to be resistant. Bacterial resistance makes an infection much harder to treat. Higher doses or stronger drugs may be required. In extreme cases, bacterial resistance can be fatal.
Causes of Bacterial Resistance
Experts like the scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree that the overprescription and misuse of anti-biotic drugs are the main causes of bacterial resistance. The CDC says that up to half of the roughly 100 million prescriptions for antibiotics written each year are unnecessary.
Although scientists agree bacterial resistance is a serious problem, there’s less consensus on what to call it. Here are some other terms that you may see used to describe bacterial resistance:
- Antibiotic resistance
- Antimicrobial resistance
Antibiotics and Bacterial Resistance?
If you don’t finish a prescribed course of medication, you may be killing only those bacteria most susceptible to antibiotics. This leaves the hardier bacteria to reproduce and cause more serious illness.
Also, if bacteria come into contact with but are not killed by an antibiotic, they may adapt their cell structure to make themselves immune to that antibiotic in the future. That’s why it is important to use a given antibiotic only as prescribed.
Other Possible Causes of Bacterial Resistance
- Bacteria reproduce by dividing to create copies of themselves; sometimes the copies aren’t exact and the new organism has different characteristics than the original. These characteristics could make the new organism resistant to an antibiotic.
- Bacteria have the ability to share resistant characteristics with each other outside of reproduction. This makes it possible to transfer resistance from one person to another through exposure to resistant bacteria.
- Bacterial resistance in humans may be increased by the use of preventive antibiotics in animal feed. In 1995, an estimated 4.5 million pounds of antibiotics were used to reduce the spread of disease and enhance the growth of cattle, swine and poultry. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now reviewing this practice to determine its potential health impact.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) convened a panel of experts to examine the possible role of antibacterial hand and body wash products in promoting bacterial resistance. The panel reviewed the available science and determined that antibacterial wash products were not a public health concern.
Bacterial vs. Viral Infections
Colds and flu are just two examples of common illnesses caused by viruses. Antibiotics don’t kill viruses, only bacteria, and are therefore useless in fighting viral infections.
Chancroid is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a bacterium. It is common in tropical countries but rare in other parts of the world. Any sexually active person can be infected with chancroid. It is more commonly seen in men than in women, particularly uncircumcised males.
Chancroid is spread by sexual contact with an infected individual. The bacteria are more likely to invade the sexual organs at the point of a pre-existing injury, such as a small cut or scratch. The likelihood of transmission is greater if a person is very active sexually and does not practice personal hygiene.
Bacteria: Haemophilus ducreyi
Haemophilus ducreyi is a major cause of human genital ulcer disease (chancroid) in developing countries (incidence being highest in African, Asian and Latin American nations). Until the 1980’s, chancroid was believed to be of little medical importance in this country. Now, however, it has been recognized that the genital ulcers of chancroid have been epidemiologically associated with sexual transmission of HIV virus. In the past decade, outbreaks in major United States cities (including New York) have been associated with populations with a high incidence of HIV-1 infection.
Although treatment with antibiotics can cure the infection, strains resistant to ampicillin and penicillin are becoming more prevalent; strains even reistant to chloramphenicol are now being encountered.
Two scanning electron micrographs showing the bacterial pathogen Haemophilus ducreyi.
What are the symptoms of chancroid?
The first sign of infection is usually the appearance of one or more sores or raised bumps on the genital organs. Sores are surrounded by a narrow red border which soon becomes filled with pus and eventually ruptures, leaving a painful open sore. In 50 percent of untreated cases, the chancroid bacteria infect the lymph glands in the groin. Within five to 10 days of the appearance of primary sores, the glands on one side (sometimes both sides) of the groin become enlarged, hard and painful. A rounded painful swelling results which may eventually rupture.
Symptoms usually appear four to seven days after exposure. Chancroid is contagious as long as the infected person has any open sores. The open sores contain bacteria and any contact with these sores can result in infection. Untreated chancroid often results in ulcers occurring on the genitals. Sometimes the ulcers persist for weeks or months.
Reinfection of Chancroid can readily occur immediately after cure. There is no evidence of natural resistance. Chancroid may be successfully treated with certain antibiotics. Lesions and ulcers can be expected to heal within two weeks.
How can the spread of chancroid be prevented?
- Limit the number of your sex partners.
- Use a condom.
- Carefully wash the genitals after sexual relations.
- If you think you are infected, avoid any sexual contact and visit your local STD clinic, a hospital or your doctor. Notify all sexual contacts immediately so they can obtain examination and treatment.
Bacteria: Escherichia coli
Escherichia coli is a common Gram negative bacterium found in normal human bacterial flora; some strains, however, can cause severe and life-threatening diarrhea.
Recently there has been an increase in disease caused by strain 0157:H7, both world wide and in the United States. Contaminated ground beef has been incriminated as the major mode of transmission. While infection with this strain it results in diarrhea, it can cause hemoragic colitis and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Persons developing HUS have a mortality rate of 3-10%, and and it is the leading cause of acute renal failure in children under the age of 4.
A transmission electron micrograph of Escherichia coli (E.coli), negatively stained to enhance contrast. Note the projecting pili, which may be involved in mechanisms of infection.
What is Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7 infection?
E. coli are bacteria that normally live in the intestines of humans and animals. Although, most strains of this bacteria are harmless, several are known to produce toxins that can cause diarrhea. One particular E. coli strain called 0157:H7 can cause severe diarrhea and kidney damage.
Anyone of any age can become infected with E. coli 0157:H7, but children are more likely to develop serious complications. The bacteria are acquired by eating food containing the bacteria. The bacteria live in the intestines of some healthy cattle, and contamination of the meat may occur in the slaughtering process. Eating meat that is rare or inadequately cooked is the most common way of getting the infection. person to person transmission can occur if infected people do not wash their hands after using the toilet.
What are the symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 infection?
People infected by E. coli O157:H7 can develop a range of symptoms. Some infected people may have mild diarrhea or no symptoms at all. Most identified cases develop severe diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Blood is often seen in the stool. Usually little or no fever is present. The symptoms usually appear about three days after exposure, with a range of one to nine days.
How is infection with E. coli O157:H7 diagnosed?
Infection with E. coli 0157:H7 can only be diagnosed by a special stool culture that is not performed in many laboratories. Public health authorities have advised doctors and laboratories to consider performing a special stool culture test for E. coli 0157:H7 particularly in people with bloody diarrhea.
What is the treatment for infection with E. coli 0157:H7?
Most people recover without specific treatment in five to 10 days. Antibiotics should not be used for the treatment of E. coli O157:H7 Infection. Studies have shown that an increase in complications has been associated with the use of antibiotics in the treatment of this particular infection.
What complications can result from infection with E. coli O157:H7?
In some people, particularly children under five years of age, the infection can cause a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) . This is a serious disease in which red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail. Transfusions of blood or blood clotting factors as well as kidney dialysis may be necessary. A prolonged hospital stay is often required. Fortunately, most people with HUS recover completely, but it can be fatal.
How can infection with E. coli O157:H7 be prevented?
Do not eat undercooked hamburger or other ground beef products. Cook all ground beef and hamburger thoroughly. Make sure the cooked meat is brown throughout (not pink), and the juices run clear. Drink only pasteurized milk and milk products. Make sure infected people, especially children, wash their hands carefully with soap after using the toilet to reduce the risk of spreading the disease.
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