Going Viral, By Lorie Sheffer

As baby boomers, not only have we had to learn about new technology, we’ve also had to learn about new threats to our health. As teenagers, we never heard of HIV/AIDS. Just as we have now hopefully become more educated about that virus, a new threat has emerged. MRSA seems to be the new word that sends folks into panic mode. When my father contracted MRSA during his long hospitalization, I saw first hand the panic reaction that people had in response and realized that most of this panic came from misinformation. While MRSA is serious, it is most times treatable. That being said, there are some basic things we should all know.

MRSA: Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, are bacteria that are highly resistant to antibiotics. According to the Mayo Clinic, these bacteria are “the result of decades of often unnecessary antibiotic use.” Antibiotics first became widely used in the 1940s. Often people would demand them for viral infections such as a bad cold. Sometimes they would stop using them when they began to feel better, saving them for the next time they or another family member became sick. The problem with this is that while antibiotics can kill bacteria, they do absolutely nothing to kill or even weaken a virus. In fact, not only do they not help, they actually cause harm. How? By setting evolution in motion by creating a classic “survival of the fittest” with the bacteria.

Bacteria are living organisms that live on an evolutionary fast track. They learn to survive the antibiotics and become resistant to them. Bacteria exist everywhere, and some types are beneficial. For example, the bacteria found in yogurt help with digestion by aiding in the breakdown of food. Other bacteria are harmful because they invade our bodies, where they then grow and multiply. An example of harmful bacteria is streptococcus, more commonly known as strep throat. Since strep is a bacteria, antibiotics would be a reasonable treatment. There are also viral throat infections, and treating them with antibiotics would be useless. Many patients, however, don’t realize this and react angrily if their physician refuses them antibiotics for a viral throat infection.

Viruses are not living organisms and cannot exist on their own. They live, grow and reproduce only after they invade living cells. Some are fought off by our own immune systems, some run their course, and some, like HIV, set up camp in our cells. People don’t die from HIV; they die because the virus attacks the immune system. When the immune system is compromised then secondary disease has a chance to wreak havoc.

The bottom line is, while antibiotics are wonderful drugs for treating bacterial illness, there is danger of too much of a good thing. Because of overuse of them and because of the use of antibacterial soaps and cleaning products instead of the just as effective soap and water or bleach and water, we have created stronger bacteria that have learned to resist our arsenal. If you use these things when you really don’t need them, they are not going to work when you DO need them.

By jeff noel

Retired Disney Institute Keynote Speaker and Prolific Blogger. Five daily, differently-themed personal blogs (about life's 5 big choices) on five interconnected sites.