By Tifani-Rae Steward, Staff Writer

Susan Cochran M.D.

Dr. Susan Cochran
(Courtesy of http://studenthealth.umf.maine.edu)


       Students will be healthier in the long run if they don’t overdo the antibiotics, according to Dr. Susan Cochran, director at UMF’s Student Health Center.

        Dr. Cochran believes that over the last 70 years doctors have been over-prescribing antibiotics, and as a result the bacteria, which the antibiotics are designed to fight, are becoming resistant to the medication.

       Dr. Cochran has been aware of this problem and has been working to limit the use of antibiotics. “I have been doing this for the last 30 years,” she said, “and the message has seemed to get out in the last 10 years. Our job is to educate people about how to keep themselves healthy. This becomes a serious public health issue; people have been dying from very simple infections which use to be cured by very simple antibiotics.”

Denise Higgins, R.N.

Denise Boothby
(Courtesy of http://studenthealth.umf.maine.edu)

       Denise Boothby, an RN at the Student Health Center and part time teacher at UMF, said “this is a great opportunity to reach out to the next generation. I love working in the Student Health Center where this is a priority.”

      “Antibiotics are designed to fight bacterial infections, some types of fungal infections, and some parasites; examples of these would be bladder infections or strep throat,” explained the Mayo Clinic website recommended by Dr. Cochran.  Antibiotics, however, do nothing against viruses. Patients are visiting their doctors with viral infections like the common cold or flu and are given antibiotics which do nothing.  Dr. Cochran said, “Even sinus infections and ear infections can be viral.”

     Dr. Cochran stated that “more than 75 percent of students are happy to try treatments without antibiotics.” Some of these include throat lozenges for sore throats, a nasal saline wash for a congested nose, and a warm mist vaporizer for respiratory infections. Students and staff need to make sure they are all up to date on their vaccinations “to help prevent some of these viruses.” Dr. Cochran wants to make it clear that “most viruses get better in 7 to 10 days; however, if it is not better after 10 to 14 days or the symptoms are worse then you need to come back. We will then often use an antibiotic because there is usually a bacterial infection superimposed on the initial virus.”

       Cochran will give antibiotics if she feels they are needed. “I am not a nihilist,” she said. “We decide to treat each student on a case by case basis and involve them in the decision-making process.”

      It is important to know “a person will take 10 to 20 courses of antibiotics by the time they are 18 years old, and one-third to one-half of women will receive antibiotics during their pregnancies,” explained an ABC news article recommended by Dr. Cochran. Antibiotics are being vastly over prescribed for children because they get sick more often. When antibiotics are taken without anything to fight, Dr. Cochran explained, “The healthy bacteria in the body can develop resistance.” This is also being seen in the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations where a large number of animals are kept in small areas and because of this are given large amounts of antibiotics. As a result the bacteria in the animals become resistant and this again is a public health issue and this “may spill over into our ability to treat humans infected with similar bacteria,” said Dr. Cochran.

       Problems also occur when antibiotics are not taken as prescribed. Patients sometimes do not take the entire course of antibiotics but are simply stopping when they feel better. “This is a common problem,” said Dr. Cochran. When this is done the patient may still have some of the bacteria in their system and these strains can become more resistant to that antibiotic.

       Beyond the resistance which the overuse of antibiotics has caused some studies suggest that overuse can be harmful to the helpful bacteria in our bodies which help us to fight off some infections and “digest food” Dr. Cochran said. According to ABC News some theories suggest an overuse in antibiotics is the cause for increasing illnesses such as type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and allergies because the antibiotics attack the protective bacteria in our bodies.